industrialization during the nineteenth century divided Americans
more deeply by class,1 and
the upper classes began separating themselves physically
and culturally from the lower classes, especially in the
city, where bourgeois attitudes flourished. This separation
played out in the public spaces of the city; notably in theaters
(of all kinds), concerts, parks—and even through language.
The bourgeois class identity articulated itself by distancing
itself from other classes linguistically during the 1880s
and 1890s, when they began referring to their professions
differently. Rather than a "merchant" or "iron manufacturer" men considered themselves a "business man" or "capitalist."2 One of the more notable
examples of this new rigid class structure in New York City was the construction
of Central Park by wealthy New Yorkers in an attempt to regain
control of the impending urban immigrant populace. A group
of wealthy merchants organized in 1850, seeing "not only
a chance for capital accumulation through rising real estate
prices, but also a way to create a space removed from the
disorderly city."3 Specific upper and middle class visions of Central Park can be viewed by clicking on the images at left from Harper's Weekly.
Furthermore, many northeast cities had Sunday blue laws
that prohibited sports activities in public spaces; the laws
were seen as insulating against immigrant-congested cities
regarded as centers of vice, crime, and corruption.4 Tammany's
working-class immigrant constituents strongly opposed such
blue laws: "Resentment built up against elite New Yorkers
who played golf and tennis on Sundays at their resorts, while
urban youth were being arrested for playing ball." But
Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted and associates
relied on regulations and policemen, called Park-Keepers, to
enforce rules: no climbing trees, molesting birds, racing
carriages, grazing animals, destroying plants, shooting firearms,
no jugglers or gamblers, no puppets shows, peddlers of flowers,
no ballad singers, no hand-organ men.5 Olmsted
thought he was creating "a distinctly harmonizing and refining
influence on upon the most unfortunate and most lawless classes
of the city—an influence favorable to courtesy, self-control,
and temperance."6 The
working class did manage to profit somewhat from the Park's construction. After Olmsted was fired, Tammany milked
the park for make-work projects for thousand of constituents
at a cost of $8 million.7 Eventually
the park was opened to sports, including ice skating by 1859-60,
and ball-playing by the 1880s.8
"Hogan's Alley Folk Sailing Boats in Central Park" shows the tension surrounding the Park that continued into June 1896, when the cartoon was published in the World and offers a scene that might be Frederick Law Olmsted's worst nightmare. A "captain" holds an uprooted sign saying "KEEP OFF THE GRASS" and two identical signs are carried on the other side of the pond in the background. Riis saw a similar protest in reality—children chalking a fence in a Mulberry Street yard wrote "Keeb of te Grass."9 Leisure time for the working class was not an option in a city where the public environment was so tightly controlled. In the Central Park cartoon, the kids take back the park and create their own high-class boating scene. The Yellow Kid bears a yachting cap to match many worn by other kids. The sailing boats are homemade, one of which bears a shirt as a sail. While one kid has fallen into the pool and is unhelpfully offered a box of lozenges, two others are in the process of falling in. One sailboat is made of a street sign. A flag bears a frothy beer and a discarded board says "dis is a star board," mocking the indecipherable nature of sailing terminology—or showing the children's ignorance. In the right corner a group of kids perform music; when we look closer you can see it's a Hogan's Alley Songster book "and other songs of the see." The comic manages to mock the habits of the rich, the habits of park-goers, and their attempts to contain or reform the residents of Hogan's Alley.
1 Beckert, Sven. The Monied Metropolis: New York City and the Consolidation of the American Bourgeoisie, 1850-1896. Cambridge, U.K.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 237.
2 Beckert 256.
3 Beckert 50.
4 Riess, Steven A. "Sports and Machine Politics in New York City, 1870-1920." The Making of Urban America. Ed. by Raymond A. Mohl. Wilmington: SR Books (1984). 101.
5 Levine, Lawrence W. Highbrow Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Cambridge, MA/London: Harvard University Press, 1988. 186.
6 Levine 202.
7 Riess 101.
8 Riess 101.
9 Riis, Jacob A. How the Other Half Lives. New York: Penguin Books, 1997. 137.