2005-02-23 / Star Journal

Snow, Cold Cause Transport Problems In February 1881

What is today known as "The Octagon" is in fact the crumbling remnant of Blackwell Island's first lunatic asylum, first constructed in 1839 and opened in 1841. It is just south of the park at the island's northern tip. Blackwell’s Island is now known as Roosevelt Island. www.forgotten-ny.com What is today known as "The Octagon" is in fact the crumbling remnant of Blackwell Island's first lunatic asylum, first constructed in 1839 and opened in 1841. It is just south of the park at the island's northern tip. Blackwell’s Island is now known as Roosevelt Island. Get into a conversation with a longtime Queens resident and you’re likely to discover a former subscriber of the Long Island Star Journal, a daily paper that informed the community about local and world news until it folded in 1968. A banner across the Star Journal masthead reminded readers that the newspaper’s name came from the merger of the Long Island Daily Star (1876) and the North Shore Daily Journal–The Flushing Journal (1841).

Philanthropist Peter Cooper.
Cooper Union Foundation Building.www.cooper.edu Philanthropist Peter Cooper. www.trussel.com Cooper Union Foundation Building. Welcome to February 1881!

February swooped down on Queens with one of the most disagreeable storms of the winter. The fall of snow was not great, but it was accompanied by low temperature and a piercing wind which drove the light, dry snow into every place which it could penetrate. Ferryboats on the river had a hard time of it battling with fields of ice and the Long Island railroad was completely blocked on some of its branches. Long Island City horse cars were snow bound, and no cars were run on the Ravenswood line after 4 PM..

Long Island Sound steamers that ventured to make the trip had a rough time in getting through the immense fields of ice. The Continental, which left New Haven on a Sunday morning, was nearly eight hours in making the trip. Boatmen said this was the worst ice trouble experienced on the Sound in ten years.

The First Reformed Church of Astoria began a series of weekly entertainments with “Mortimer’s Mysteries” featuring “Mortimer: Prestodigist, Humorist and Magician” in an elaborate entertainment containing “Magic, Mirth and Mystery.” Among the coming attractions were: a lecture entitled “Private Theatricals,” a lecture by Rev. M. L. Haines descriptive of his travels in Switzerland, and one or more evenings with popular elocutionists. Admission was only 25 cents, and there were no reserved seats.

The Inman Steamship Line advertised cabin passage on its Royal Mail Steamers bound for Liverpool and Queenstown for $80 to $100 in gold, one way, or round trip, available for twelve months, for $135 to $160 in gold. Steerage was available to all points at reduced rates.

The Star feature “Star Gleams” reported humorous nuggets: “Judge,” said a Western lawyer, “isn’t ‘e-q-u-i’ the way to spell ‘equinomical’?” “I think so,” said the Judge, “but I’ll look it up in Webster’s Dictionary.” He fumbled over the pages for five minutes and then said in a heat: “Well, I’ve been a Webster man and voted for him for President; but any man that will write a dictionary and leave out such a common word as ‘equinomical’ can’t have my vote anymore.”

Peter Cooper, one of New York City’s most well known and respected philanthropists, celebrated his ninetieth birthday on Saturday, the 12th. A free lecture that evening at the Cooper Institute had Mr. Cooper’s life as its subject. Mr. Cooper, to celebrate the day, gave the trustees of Cooper Union $30,000 in cash and receipts for $70,000 expended in the last year in adding an additional story to one of the school’s buildings. He also gave $10,000 to the fund for aiding poor children.

The Father of Newtown, George I. Rapelye, celebrated his 96th birthday on the 10th. The hearty old gentleman drove from Corona to the residence of his daughter, where he met with a score of relatives there assembled to greet him. Save on the single item of a clear memory, retrospective from the close of Revolutionary days, Mr. Rapelye differed little from those around him.

Marked progress was made on the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. The last block of granite was lifted into place, and the Brooklyn approach to the bridge, so far as masonry was concerned, was pronounced finished. Work began on hanging the steel beams that would form the roadway from the steel suspension cables hanging from the towers.

In an editorial, the Star had some observations on the behavior in Long Island City on Sundays: “Long Island City is cursed with dozens of the lowest and vilest whiskey dens in which gambling is openly conducted and to which flock the most disreputable and dangerous characters of both sexes. That they should be tolerated on week-days is a disgrace, and still more so it is a burning shame and a scandal for which the officials of the city are responsible that they should be permitted on Sunday to brazenly conduct their nefarious and debasing traffic. The licensed hotels, saloons, public parks, &c., should also be compelled to exhibit at least some outward show of respect for the “day of rest,” and the city in the future be spared any repetition of the many disgraceful scenes of riot and bloodshed that were inflicted upon us last summer by the open and unrestricted violations of the law. We want no system “of Connecticut Blue Laws,” but we do want a little outward semblance of public decency and good order as a community to the end that our citizens may rest secure from the constant Sunday raids of the dangerous element from over the river which the open door to Sunday desecration at present holds out such tempting inducements.” On Sunday, February 13, the ministers of all the churches in Astoria delivered sermons on the topic.

On a Saturday afternoon, Frank Goodwin of Ridge street, Astoria, entered the First Precinct station house and told the officer in charge that he had a crazy woman in his house and wished the officer would lock her up. Mr. Goodwin admitted that the woman had been sent from the Asylum on Blackwell’s Island to do work for his family. Mrs. Goodwin was a nurse at the Asylum and had sent women to her son’s house in a similar way before. The Sergeant agreed to receive the woman for temporary safe keeping until Monday when Goodwin promised to pick her up and deliver her back to Blackwell’s Island. Goodwin agreed to this and soon appeared with the woman who called herself Mary Gorman, Irish by birth. She behaved and spoke in a most eccentric manner.

There being no other prisoners at the station house, she was allowed to roam the corridor instead of being locked up. Shortly after her incarceration she was, as the Star put it, “apparently suffering from the prevailing tropical temperature prevailing now and was promenading up and down the corridor clothed in the airy costume provided for her by nature and with such sweet simplicity as would have put mother Eve to the blush could she have seen her.” By the exercise of no little persuasion, Mary was prevailed upon to dress herself and take up her abode in a cell where she would not be seen by those passing in and out of the station house should she desire to again exemplify the adage “Beauty unadorned, adorned the most.”

Goodwin did not return to remove her to Blackwell’s Island as promised. On Thursday the coroner was advised that Mary Gorman was dead. Mrs. S. M. Walker gave the deceased every attention while she remained in the station house, but could not get her to keep her clothes on. It was thought that she contracted a cold and that, with her refusal to take proper nourishment, caused her death. An inquest was set where Blackwell Island authorities would be called on to explain how an insane person was allowed to be sent out to work.

That’s the way it was in February 1881.

For further information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit their website at www.astorialic.org.

The society’s exhibit “Look Up, Look Down, Look Around” is open to the public Saturdays noon to four in the Quinn Building, 35-20 Broadway, in Long Island City.

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