Monday, July 27, 2009
Now this "missed connection" ad is verrrry interesting to me. It reads: "'Alley in Allen street' - White cane, Tuesday, P.M. - Will the tallest of the two young ladies send address to earnest admirer? Address E.K., Herald office."
I know, you're thinking, "So what? How is this different than any other ad of this type?" After all, the one I posted several days ago is much more intriguing than this, right?
Well, here's what makes it special, or at least noteworthy. Allen Street is in New York City's Lower East Side, which at this time was the largest and poorest immigrant neighborhood in the entire city, and, in fact, the country. (Within twenty years, it was the most densely populated place in the entire world, as well as the worst slum in the entire world. Some statistics on population density are here.) So the vast majority of the people living here at this time would have been Irish and, increasingly, Jewish immigrants. That already makes it a bit odd to me, because most of the Irish were illiterate, Jews who could read and write were doing so in Yiddish, and both would have been reading ethnic newspapers in any event. So what were these presumably native-born, educated white folk doing in an alley on Allen Street?
Even more fascinating is that, at this time, Allen Street was the Lower East Side's - and by extension, the rest of the city's - red light district. What were two "ladies" doing kicking it in the red light district? Were they ladies at all? And if not, was contacting them through the personal ads really going to work? Most of the prostitutes were from the neighborhood and wouldn't have been literate either, and even if they were, I can't imagine they were skimming the papers for messages from "earnest admirers." It's really bizarre. If they were, in fact, middle-class native New Yorkers, the two ladies simply wouldn't have been in the Lower East Side, at night - at least not by themselves (there was some slumming going on, but that was a bit later in the century, and they would have been chaperoned). And a middle-class man would have been going to Allen Street in the Lower East Side for one reason only - for the red light district. Is he really going to be able to pick up a woman he encounters while there? Like she wouldn't know what he was doing there?
Man, I'm just fascinated!
ETA: Someone in my comments brings up an excellent point, which is that two ladies might be in the Lower East Side as charity workers. This is certainly a possibility (there were a lot of charities that tried to reach out to poor immigrants and to prostitutes specifically) - I think it depends on when exactly in the "P.M." this encounter took place. So that's a good reason for the women to be there - but who is this guy who's hanging out in the alley?
Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!
©2009 Pam Epstein