Slums had their place in Manhattan once upon a time… before Scorsesse

By Ray

Kasia’s post about the film industry and their love affair with slums reminded me of our own slum history here in New York. The film Gangs of New York loosely based on the political history of Manhattan in the 1840s centers around an area called ‘The Five Points’. While the film does a decent job of portraying the area as a backdrop for Scorsesse’s beautifully written story, the real story of the area is just as interesting. As a congested center of a burgeoning city the area’s sewage waste removal system saw a collapse. Eventually the local pond was drained from severe pollution and used as a dumping ground. Conditions were never really resolved before the influx of immigrant from the 1840s Irish Potato Famine and soon the over filled tenements spilt their numbers out into the streets and make shift houses were soon built in squares over all matters of human waste. Most articles have this time as seeing complete collapse in waste control with sewage filled streets being the norm. I guess having Leonardo DiCaprio  trudging around in all matters of human waste was too much for Scorsesse in his (all things considered) ‘tidy’ Five Points. The Five Points are also regarded as having the highest crime and murder rate of any slum in the world. Whether this is true or not would be an interesting thing to see presented statistically. However the complete collapse of waste control and burgeoning population filling any area possible with some sort of living conditions while being under the jurisdiction of corrupt politics most certainly set the stage for mayhem.

Here is a sketch of the tenements, my apologies to anyone hoping to see an image of Leo D.


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