I-"An Experience Meeting in Water Street" - Helen Campbell - Sunday Afternoon

I-"An Experience Meeting in Water Street" - Helen Campbell - Sunday Afternoon

by: Helen Campbell | publication date: January 1, 1879 | Publication: Sunday Afternoon | pages: 53-61

To one approaching Water street either from the upper portion of New York or by way of Fulton Ferry from Brooklyn, it is difficult to believe that the word "slums" can be applicable. On week days the whirl of business life; the hurrying masses of preoccupied-looking men; the constant stream of drays and heavy wagons, and the bales and piles of goods of every description, from rolls of leather and towers of paper boxes up to sugar hogsheads and enormous boilers, indicate only the American devotion to its god, the dollar. And on Sunday the utter absence of all ordinary sights and sounds; the deserted streets and silent warehouses, would seem to evidence the most careful keeping of the fourth commandment. For two or three blocks, stoves and boilers are sole proprietors of the deserted thoroughfare, and only as Peck Slip is passed does a suggestion of what is to come suddenly dawn upon one, as the whole character suddenly changes, and the sound of music from a sailors' boarding house is heard. With Dover street and the great pier of the East River bridge ends the dominion of trade in its higher forms, and a new trade, old as the foundations of the world—the trade in men's souls—takes its place. In a former article the general feeling of the locality was given, but on Sunday a special effort seems to be made to enhance the attractions of the vile dens, thick set for blocks, till warehouses again take their place.

This article consists of Campbell's ethnographic account of one particular Sunday afternoon she spent in the tenements of Water Street, one of the oldest and poorest parts of New York City. This particular afternoon she witnesses a meeting held by "Old Padgett," a reformed drunk and lifelong resident of New York's "slums." In this meeting, the men of the neighborhood take turns sharing their triumphs over alcohol, gambling and other vices. Campbell's articles published in Sunday Afternoon magazine were later collected, along with those from Lippincott's Magazine, in a book titled "The Problem of the Poor" (1888).

Public domain, online article.