Garbage pickings

One Half meets the Other Half— West Broadway. Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, April 23, 1881
Well-dressed boulevardiers clutch handkerchiefs to their faces as they pass barrels of filth;
the local garbage gleaner digs right in
Columbus Park, Bayard and Mulberry, c. 1910
Garbage picker, Lower West Side, 1915, Lewis Hine.

Department of Sanitation "White Wings" sweeping up— linen-suited and pith-helmeted,
they were a public relations coup and a success for decades. Photos by Alice Austen
Part of a map Encroachment of Nuisances upon Populous Up-town Districts, 1865; A pig in a bakery cellar, 1902;
Fifth Street, March, 1893. From the brochure to the New York Public Library exhibition Garbage! (1994)

From the brochure to the New York Public Library exhibition Garbage! (1994)
When the temperatures rise so do the aromas of the NYC pavement so it is in springtime this lady's fancy lightly turns to garbage. Waste, trash, refuse, rubbish-garbage is interesting to me or at least the history of it is: how it was collected, what was done with it, and even how the city's filth has manifested differently over the years. My attention was initially captured in the early 90s when I worked on a fun exhibition at the New York Public Library, Garbage! The History and Politics of Trash in New York City where the depths of all manner of sanitation and health issues were plumbed. (We even went to Fresh Kills landfill as research!) Lately interest has been rekindled by my mudlarking jaunts to Dead Horse Bay and Barren Island (now Floyd Bennett Field) picking up 19th century glass, marbles and ceramic shards. Read about Barren Island's fascinating history as an isolated community living in, and making a living from, a dump and garbage boiling facility here and here. (Boiling you say? Yes, "reduction" plants cooked down refuse and offal to reuse blood, bone, fat and tallow. As one garbage scholar astutely notes, the past was a grease- and bone- based civilization as we are a petroleum-based one.) 

Nineteenth century New York City would probably be unbearably offensive to 21st century sensibilities. For instance, in 1880, 15,000 horse carcasses had to be retrieved from city streets along with tons of manure from those thousands of beasts that were still alive. (Though we perhaps still face other noisome assaults, sanitation workers--and citizens--do not have to deal with too many carcasses or dung heaps anymore.) Manhattan street sweepings including manure and ash would be carted to dumps lining the periphery of the island. There, the contents of innumerable wagons was spread by  "trimmers" into 100 x 30 x 9 foot scows used to dump the trash out at sea. On the West side there were dumps at Canal, 30th, 47th, 79th, 97th, 134th Streets keeping real estate prices down, on the East side there were those at Jackson, Stanton, 30th, 46th, 60th, 80th, 107th, and 139th Streets. And that was only the Manhattan river dumps-- there were land dumps, incinerators, grease skimming and bone boiling plants, and horse rendering factories pocking the landscape through out the boroughs. Brooklyn and Queens marshlands were “reclaimed” and made “valuable” with trash dumps. With a history like that no wonder New York turned away from its waterfronts for decades. It is only in recent years New Yorkers have had access to the riverside—or would even want to.//
You might be surprised to learn just how many books there are on garbage—and I just came across a review of another, Picking Up, by Robin Nagle, the Department of Sanitation's official anthropologist in residence. I'd like to spend a day with her.
Garbage scows like these hauled trash out to sea from stations along the waterfront.
The last scow to dump garbage set forth on June 28, 1934.

Excessively watermarked image from the Municipal Archives.
Garbage picker under the 30th Street dump, Jacob Riis, 1890s. From the New York Public Library exhibition Garbage! (1994)
Barren Island relics, 2013. 'Garbage' I picked up on one of my excursions...

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