The Library of Congress website has a bonanza of images from the 1890s, which gives an interesting impression of how different New York City is now, 120 years later. Remember, New York in 1896 had no Empire State Building, no Times Square, no Rockefeller Center. Here are some of the photos I found (clicking on them will enlarge some of them):
Broadway runs adjacent to some of the neighborhoods that, in 1896, were full of immigrants packed into tenements. Some of these bustling photos are close to what that must have looked like. Only the real situation was worse. I bought an illustrated copy of How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis while I was researching this book, and some of the photos are brutal. For more see some of Riis’s photos here.
This photo was just labeled “New York City 1890,” but I think it might be taken from Union Square? (Feel free to correct me.)
In the late 19th century, before the subway (opened in 1904), New Yorkers got around by horse-drawn street cars and hansom cabs and the elevated trains. There are still elevated trains in the outer boroughs, but not so much in Manhattan. I imagine them as kind of a blight; the tracks must have blocked out the sun on some of the streets they ran over.
In the 1890s, most of the city’s major newspapers had offices in these tall buildings on Park Row, along City Hall Park.
Politics in the late 19th century was dominated by Tammany Hall. By 1896, Tammany’s notorious Boss Tweed had been dead for nearly twenty years, but Tammany played a role in New York politics well into the 20th century.
There have been a series of prisons in lower Manhattan called the Tombs, which doesn’t really speak well to the conditions at any of them. This ominous building was what the prison looked like at the time of the novel.
The LOC website has a series of photos of people on the streets. I liked these particular examples. I can only imagine wearing that police uniform during a heat wave; my detective, Hank Brandt, basically refuses.
So there’s a little glimpse into the New York City of Ten Days in August.