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Dr. Parkhurst's Scandalous Sermon
UPPER-CLASS gambling in the 1880s followed upper-class society uptown. Twenty-third to Thirty-fourth Streets, along Fifth Avenue and Broadway and the lively edge of the Tenderloin, became the center of chance and sin. The stretch along Broadway was known in sporting circles as "Bunko Land."
Everywhere in the city rich and poor gambled openly and, according to John Quinn, it was "no uncommon sight to see a shoe-black, scarcely three feet high, walk up to the table or `bank' as it is euphoniously termed, and stake a nickel with the air of a young spendthrift to `whom money is no object.' " In 1880 ten thousand gamblers formed an association that paid graft to the Tammany administration, and gambling dens operated in every neighborhood unmolested by the police.
"The secret of Tammany's clutch on the city," as M. R. Werner analyzed this situation, ". . . was the absolute control of the police force, for without that control Tammany and Croker could do nothing. They could not make certain of elections by fraudulent means if policemen were honest in their efforts to arrest lawbreakers, and they could not collect vast sums of money for their personal comfort and for the insurance of the eternity of their power, if policemen arrested the prostitutes, the saloon keepers, the pimps, the race-track gamblers, the thieves and the businessmen who paid for the privilege of violating the law."
Dr. Charles Henry Parkhurst, pastor of the Madison Square Presbyterian Church, was the voice of reform thundering in the stone wilderness. For ten years he denounced the police from his pulpit, built up his congregation, and demanded clean city government. He influenced only a limited number of voters, but impressed the members of the Society for the Prevention of Crime so favorably that in 1891 he succeeded Dr. Howard Crosby as president of that organization. On February 18, 1892, Dr. Parkhurst preached a historic sermon.
"Every effort to make men respectable, honest, temperate and sexually clean," he exhorted his flock; "is a direct blow between the eyes of the mayor and his whole gang of drunken lecherous subordinates. There is not a form under which the devil disguises himself that so perplexes us in our efforts, or so bewilders us in the devising of our schemes, as the polluted harpies that, under the pretext of governing the city, are feeding day and night on its quivering vitals. They are," he stated with unequivocal fervor, "a lying, perjured, rum-soaked and libidinous lot."
The sermon made the front page of every newspaper in New York. The mayor and Tammany Hall and its henchmen promptly rebutted by calling Parkhurst insane and challenging him to prove his hard words. The righteous doctor was hauled before a grand jury and when he could produce no firsthand evidence of his accusations.was upbraided by the presiding judge. His sermon, which scandalized many but was praised by responsible people, began to fade from public memory, and his enemies thought that this was the end of his menace. But the redoubtable parson immediately set out to obtain absolute and incontrovertible proof that dens of iniquity flourished under the protection of the police and city officials.
Every night for three dedicated weeks Parkhurst made pilgrimage to the bawdyhouses, gambling hells, dope dens, and drinking dives of New York. With him were young John L. Erving, a society friend, and a detective, Charles W. Gardner, who, for six dollars a day, had agYeed to show Parkhurst and Erving the sin spots of the city, provided that they would disguise themselves as ordinary citizens doing the town. To prove the collusion of the police, they occasionally asked the patrolman on the beat for directions. One obliging cop stood sentry for them to give warning in case of a surprise raid while they visited a house of ill fame.
All three took copious notes and Gardner later wrote a book, The Doctor and the Devil or Midnight Adventures of Dr. Parkhurst. Here the good man is pictured as unintimidated by the sight of sin. In fact he constantly said, "Show me something worse!" except at the Golden Rule Pleasure Club, on West Third Street, where the proprietress, "Scotch Ann," greeted them as they came in through the basement door. "The basement," according to Gardner, "was fitted up into little rooms, by means of cheap partitions, which ran to the top of the ceiling from the floor. Each room contained a table and a couple of chairs for the use of customers of the vile den. In each room sat a youth, whose face was painted, eyebrows blackened, and whose airs were those of a young girl. Each person talked in a high falsetto voice, and called the others by women's names." When the detective exnlained the nature of the men who patronized the club "The Doctor instantly turned on his heel and fled from the house at top speed. `Why, I wouldn't stay in that house,' he gasped, `for all the money in the world.' "
Dr. Parkhurst did, however, manage to endure Hattie Adams's parlor-house girls, who, on payment of fifteen dollars, put on a "dance of nature." Gardner wrote: "Each girl was dressed in the usual garb of a Mother Hubbard gown, so fashionable in the circles we were in. The story of the disrobing has been told in court and need not be reproduced here. I meanwhile blindfolded `the Professor,' as the broken-down musician who sat in the parlor to furnish the music was called, as the girls refused to dance before him. Then the five women, to a lively jig, played by the `Professor,' danced the 'can-can'. . . . As I would not dance, and the Doctor, of course, would not if he could, Erving was forced to do the dancing for the visitors. . . . Then came the celebrated `leapfrog' episode, in which I was the frog and the others jumped over me. The Doctor sat in the corner with an unmoved face through it all, watching us and slowly sipping at a glass of beer. Hattie Adams was anxious to find out who Dr. Parkhurst was. I told her that he was `from the West,' and was a `gay boy.' Then Hattie tried to pull Dr. Parkhurst's whiskers, but the Doctor straightened out with such an air of dignity that she did not attempt any further familiarities."
Parkhurst's enemies later maliciously accused him of enjoying the pleasures of playing leapfrog with nude ladies of joy.
Now he had his facts and on March 14, 1892, he charged in his pulpit that vice and corruption were rampant in the city, citing no less than 184 open transgressions of laws that occurred under the noses of the police and police justices who encouraged the vicious practices because they and Tammany Hall were fed with pay-offs. He wound up: "There is little advantage in preaching the Gospel to a young fellow on Sunday, if he is going to be sitting on the edge of a Tammany-maintained hell the rest of the week. Don't tell me I don't know what I'm talking about. Many a long, dismal, heart-sickening night, in company with two trusted friends, have I spent since I spoke on this matter before, going down into the disgusting depths of this Tammany-debauched town; and it is rotten with a rottenness that is unspeakable and undescribable, and a rottenness that would be absolutely impossible except by the connivance not to say the purchased sympathy, of the men whose one obligation before God, men, their own consciences, is to shield virture and make vice difficult. Now, that I stand by, because before Almighty God I know it, and I will stand by it though buried beneath presentments as thick as autumn leaves in Vallambrosa, or snowflakes in a March blizzard."
Nor did he spare gambling. "Gambling houses flourish in New York as thick as roses in Sharon. They are open to the initiated at any hour of day or night. They are eating into the character of some of what we are accustomed to think of as our best and most promising young men. They are a sly and constant menace to all that is choicest and more vigorous in a moral way in the generation that is now moving onto the field of action. If we try to close up a gambling house, we in the guilelessness of our imagination might have supposed that the arm of the city government that takes cognizance of such matters would find no service so congenial as that of combining with well-intentioned citizens in turning up the light on these nefarious dens and giving to the public certified lists of the names of their frequenters. But if you convict a man for keeping a gambling hell in this town you have to do it in spite of authorities and not by their aid."
Dr. Parkhurst was called before the grand jury again and this time gave such proof of his earlier claims that the police perforce raided some of the houses of ill fame he listed. They took the coldest night of the winter to drive the inmates out of their brothels, a maneuver calculated to represent Dr. Parkhurst as causing prostitutes to work the streets. He retaliated by finding homes for the dispossessed.
The police next prosecuted Charles Gardner for an alleged attempt to levy blackmail. He was convicted but the verdict set aside on appeal. When Parkhurst and the Society for the Prevention of Crime tried to obtain warrants for the arrest of fortyfive of the sixty-four keepers of brothels and gambling houses permitted to operate by the police captain in a single district, Tammany-appointed justices created difficulties. Mobs were stirred to attack Parkhurst and his agents whenever they tried to serve warrants.
Thoroughly aroused, forty religious and non-religious societies formed The City Vigilance Society to clean up New York. The disappointing failures of efforts to bring gambling-house owners and brothel keepers to book made it clear that nothing short of a full exposure of police and political corruption would work, so, at the behest of the Society and perturbed citizens, the Chamber of Commerce petitioned the New York State Senate to hold an investigation.
The Republicans welcomed an occasion to expose the Democrats, and the Republican boss, Thomas C. Platt, pressed the matter.
Platt, as corrupt as any Tammany sachem, was concerned with building up a Republican machine strong enough to defeat Tammany Hall and get its share of political plunder. Platt had made many a secret deal with Tammany Boss Croker but now saw his chance to put a knife into the Democratic organization. He attended Parkhurst's Madison Square Presbyterian Church regularly and enjoyed hearing him sermonize against Tammany, but when Parkhurst declared that Platt was equal to more than five Boss Crokers, he joined another church.
The state senate appointed a special committee to investigate corruption in the New York police department and passed a bill to provide "twenty-five thousand dollars or so much thereof as may be necessary-from the State treasury to defray counsel fees and expenses of the committee." Governor Roswell P. Flower, a Democrat, vetoed the bill, but the chamber of commerce got around the veto by guaranteeing the necessary appropriation. All the members of the committee were state senators, Clarence Lexow presiding.
Dr. Parkhurst feared that the Lexow investigation, endorsed by Thomas C. Platt, would be more concerned with making political hash of Tammany Hall than exposing vice in New York. His fears were unjustified, as John Goff brought in a penetrating expose of the police and ripped New York City's network of bribery and vice wide open. The five volumes of testimony make gripping reading today. About three thousand subpoenas were served; eighty-one witnesses examined on police interference at the polls (1077 pages of testimony), and 597 testified as to blackmail, extortion, etc. (9499 pages). The committee found that appointment and promotion in the police force could be bought. An appointment cost $300, promotion to sergeant $1500-$1600, and for advancement to captain $12,000-$15,000.
Policy shops, poolrooms, saloons, bawdyhouses, and gambling establishments turned over regular, stipulated amounts or percentages to their police captains. The captain paid 20 per cent of this graft to his "collector" and, after a partial split with the inspector; kept the rest himself. It was possible for a captain to amass several hundred thousand dollars in a few years, which, witnesses explained on the stand, were the result of making money on house lots in Japan and stock-market tips!
Tammany grafted from the grafters, by how much is anybody's guess. The finance committee never kept records and the chiefs of the Wigwam never died poor.
Two years before the Lexow Committee swung into action a New York newspaper, the Mail and Express, had charged police with protecting gambling houses, corroborating its accusations with names and addresses. The police department held a meeting at the time, passed a resolution to investigate these foul allegations, and then dropped the whole matter. John GofE of the Lexow Committee referred to these earlier charges, but the police commissioner, John McClave, could not seem to recall anything about them. Rapid-fire questions, naming for posterity a who's who of upper-echelon gamblers in New York and citing addresses, signally failed to refresh the witness's memory. A typical exchange involved a well-known crooked gambler and policy-shop owner named Albert J. Adams:
GOFF: ... No. 512 Sixth Avenue, Albert J. Adams; did you ever hear of such a man? MC CLAVE: I have heard that there was such a man in existence, but I have never yet seen him.... GOFF: Do you know him as a gambler? Mc cLAVE: I know no such thing. GOFF: As a backer of policy shops? Mc cLAVE: I know of no such thing. GOFF: Has he never been raided since you were commissioner of police in any of his faro banks in this city? MC CLAVE: I don't know. GOFF: Do you know anything about the existence of faro banks in this city? Mc cLAVE: I know of none; I have no knowledge of them. GOFF: You have no knowledge of a faro bank existing in this city? Mc cLAVE: If you say my personal knowledge of a faro bank, I have no personal knowledge at all; if you should ask me this question: Has any gambling place existed in the city of New York ... I would say to you very promptly, Mr. Goff, yes; always have existed, always will exist; do exist to a greater or less extent today, and exist in every large city in the universe.
In 1895, thanks to the indefatigable Dr. Parkhurst and the damning revelations of the Lexow investigation, the Republicans defeated the Tammany Hall Democrats in the mayorality elections, and the gambling houses endured a year or two of insecurity. By the end of that time the Republican politicians had become as eager and greedy as their defeated rivals and Teddy Roosevelt resigned as president of the police board, having done his sturdy best to clean up the force.
"To hell with reform!" was the slogan on which Tammany candidate for mayor, Robert A. Van Wyck, was elected in 1897. Election night was a delirium of bonfires, flowing barrels, and, above all in the Tenderloin, a drinks-on-the-house public rejoicing. The ladies of joy, their pimps, and their customers paraded and snake-danced and shouted wildly as each new return indicating the Tammany sweep came in. The underworld swayed drunkenly in the streets at midnight when it was all over, dancing, blowing horns, waving noise makers and banners and placards of the Tiger while jubilant mobs chanted:
Well! Well! Well! Reform has gone to Hell!,/p>
On March 7, 1900, the New York Herald trotted out the white crusader's horse again and published a statement by Bernard J. York that "even the president of the police board is sometimes fettered"-especially when he wanted to suppress the big gambling houses. The next day the paper quoted an unidentified politician as to Barney York's fate if he should ever try to put the lid on gambling in New York City: "It will be another case of Hamlet and the grave-digger with some gambler-politician to fondle the police president's official skull as he remarks `Alas poor York, I knew him well.'
". . . We control the police and the office of the district attorney as well, and no power this side of election can close New York." The Times jumped on the new reform band wagon with an expose called "This City's Crying Shame," in which it claimed that the gambling-house proprietors paid protection to a gambling commission that consisted of the head of one of the city departments, two state senators, and "czar of the poolroom syndicate," James A. Mahoney, "with whom are allied some of the leading men in Tammany Hall." Fire Commissioner Frank J.
Scannel was suspected of being the "head of the city department," so accused, and George Washington Plunkett, boss of the Fifteenth District, who had once held four public offices in one year and collected salaries for three of them at the same time, one of the "two state Senators." Senator Plunkett replied to a reporter: "I'm one of those few men who never was in a gambling house in my life. . . . [New York is] the cleanest city in the United States."
State Senator Timothy D. Sullivan, known as "Big Tim" and "The Big Fellow," was actually head of the gambling commission. He was the most charitable, generous, and engaging of district leaders in all Tammany's history, and one of the most corrupt. He made money from graft, gambling houses, and houses of ill fame. Though he never smoked or drank, he was exceedingly fond of cards and prided himself on the sharpness of his poker and pinochle, at which he Avon the championship of Congress when he served as representative from New York.
The Times claimed: "More than $3,095,000 is paid every year by the gambling house keepers of this city for the protection afforded them by the police and other powers," allotting the figures in a definitive list: Pool rooms $1,440,000 Crap games 900,000 Gambling houses 300,000 Gambling houses, large 240,000 Envelope games 90,000 Policy 125,000 $3,095,000 The gamblers were critical of the system, the story said, because the commission has allowed too many `joints' to open. Dazzled by the returns from a reasonable number of gambling houses, they have issued permits right and left. There are not enough `suckers' to go around. . . . A great number of pool rooms that formerly stuck to the racing business have lately been compelled to put in crap, sweat, faro and roulette layouts in order to eke out an existence." The gamblers indeed hoped that the Times expose would drive out small-fry establishments.
Next day Frank Farrell, of the pool room syndicate, made his pronouncement. "My hands are in the air. Isn't the city prosperous? Was money ever so plentiful as now? Why are we attacked in this manner?
"To gamble is an inherent trait of human nature. We simply furnish the opportunity- to gratify the desire. Some win and some lose and out of the lot we get our profit. Didn't the people indorse us in the last election? I believe in the rule of the majority, and New York has said there should be an open town.
"Now you mark what I tell you: this crusade will amount to nothing. Force is already being brought to bear which will stop it. `Big Tim' will take a hand, and his friends are powerful, even with the newspapers and in the churches."
Nevertheless Dr. Parkhurst, at the head of the Society for the Prevention of Crime, aided by the the Society for the Suppression of Vice and its secretary, Anthony Comstock, did his best to carry out raids on the dens of sin. When the chamber of commerce organized the Committee of Fifteen to clean up the city with Judge William Travers Jerome as their man, the police hampered the increased efforts by tipping off proprietors.
In the summer of 1901 the people of New York got a shock when two former agents of Dr. Parkhurst's Society confessed that they were paid by the gambling ring to forewarn resorts slated for raids. This helped to build up another wave of public alarm and the reformers, independent Democrats and Republicans formed a fusion party with Seth Low standing for mayor and judge Jerome for district attorney. They were elected in November, to take office in January, the circumstance that caused Canfield to close his handsome premises on the last day of December 1901. Dr. Parkhurst's preaching and proselytizing and painful research had, for the moment, paid off.