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Time Travelogue, 1853 edition: a Slice of NYC Life

Updated on July 5, 2013

Time traveling FAQs

What's the best way to travel back in time?

The method that I use for time travelling is super secret, so don't try asking me how I did it. Because I'll never tell anyone how it's done.

What's so special about July 5th, 1853?

Let's just say that there were a few important tasks that I had to complete. I can't say any more than that. Sorry.

Indisputable proof that I was there

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Tips for getting around NYC in 1853

1. Beware of confused old women

Be forewarned: in 1853 NYC, forgetful old women were roaming wild all over the city. If that doesn't seem like a big deal, know that this was actually a big problem especially for wearers of scarves and handkerchiefs.

During my travels I stumbled into an entire camp of wandering, weak-eyed grandmas who immediately started asking me for directions. I decided to help the most respectable and decent looking of the ladies find her way back to her "stage" (1850s slang for stagecoach) but for my kindness she repaid me by forgetting that my handkerchief wasn't hers. Apparently I wasn't the first to be victimized in this way by absent minded old ladies that wandered into NYC from the west. So keep a watchful eye out.

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2. Be careful when using firearms

In the the mid 19th century, it was customary for people to fire their guns into the air during celebrations. Especially the Fourth of July. The problem was that nobody had quite perfected gun manufacturing yet. In 1853, many handmade guns were still around. There were some well-made handmade guns... but there were also more than a few not-so-well-made ones.

So, every Fourth of July someone got their face blown off.

When operating firearms from the 1850s be sure to clean them out thoroughly to avoid having all the bullets fire off at once. If that happens your gun could blow up and metal shards might explode all over the left side of your body.

Also: be careful where you point those things.

I saw one guy by the name of Matthew Wallace interrupt one gentleman who was in the process of discharging his gun. The gentleman wheeled around and shot Wallace in the face. Wallace lost an eye. The incident made the paper. But Wallace wasn't the only one to get mangled up that day due to a grizzly gun accident.

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A 1850s era penny.
A 1850s era penny. | Source

3. Don't-- I repeat, DON'T-- sleep in any of the inns around Broadway

NYC was going through a transition in 1853. Many of the old mansions along Broadway had been bought out by the penny-pinching Brits.

Needless to say, the conditions in these houses were pretty crappy. In 1853, you could get a bed in the middle of NYC for cheap-- only 12 and 1/2 cents. That's the equivalent of about $35 today. On the downside though, you had to sleep in attics that were literally filled to the brim with bums, loafers and vagabonds.

While I was walking along Broadway looking for a crash pad I ran across one particularly nasty English woman who tried to trick me into sleeping in an attic with 40 bums!

When I arrived I was desperate because I didn't have any 1850s cash. But this lady had been drinking in the "drinking shop" on the first story below when I arrived, so she didn't notice the image of some guy named Lincoln on my coins when I slipped her some 2013 pennies as payment.

The lady showed me to the attic, where I was supposed to sleep. This woman was shoving the occupants up there and stacking them up on very narrow bunkbeds and mattresses that were made out of straw. The scent in the attic was overwhelming-- kind of like a barn scent, mixed together with the smell of dirty laundry and spilled liquor. I asked her about the conditions but she only replied with a stern expression and said "You'll get used to it. Now go along, chap."

After that she threw some filthy sheets at me and a small lantern, but she immediately snatched the lantern back after "turn in time." There was no bathroom in there, only a pot outside. I tried to go relieve myself in the pot, but the lady had shut and locked the door to the outside. I had to bang on the door a few times to get her attention. She demanded to search me before I left because she thought I was going to steal her nasty crap from the attic. After an argument she told me to go sleep in the park.

So whatever you do for lodging, avoid Broadway.

A markerBroadway, New York City -
Broadway, New York, NY, USA
get directions

Don't stay here when time traveling to 1853.

4. Don't annoy Justice Welsh

One of the bums named William at the house on Broadway told me a story about his friend Patrick who was trying to get his wife arrested. Patrick's wife was a real pain and was always getting on his case, apparently, so Patrick and William had developed a plan to get her arrested for habitual drunkenness.

Patrick got off on the wrong foot with the judge, though, when William slept in and forgot all about showing up to the trial to bear witness to Patrick's wife's drunkenness. Justice Welsh sent Patrick away and was clearly very irritated by the whole situation.

The next time they went before the judge Patrick, his wife and William were all present. However, Patrick and William had gone out drinking the night before. And they were still drunk. The judge was so annoyed that he decided to lock up Patrick and his wife. William almost got locked up with them, but he managed to slide out of the situation with some smooth talking.

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5. Stick around for 1854 aka the Dead Year.

Spoiler alert: 1854 is definitely not a sniveling, feeble kind of a year. It's actually kind of an overly dramatic, theatrical kind of a year.

1853 is a pretty decent year that was cool to relax and hang out in. But 1854 is where the excitement starts to happen. So if you're time traveling to the year 1853, why not stay there and check out 1854?

1854 is not one of those sniveling, feeble years. You know, the kind of years for which history has no page. No... 1854 was a year for the ages. Sure, plenty of things happened in 1853. But for 1854, the Muse of History ordered a new gross of pens-- and a new blank book.

All kinds of cool stuff happened in 1854. Basically, Gentle Peace stayed in the whole time, eating fish sticks and doing her nails while banks broke apart. Companies disolved. Almost every part of the business world received a shock, actually.

Put it like this: not-so-gentle War did his prettiest, all year long in 1854. If thousands of people weren't dying and spilling their blood all over the place everyone was like: "Ah, pish. Get out of here with that mere skirmish crap."

Believe me, I've been there for 1854 and it's a blast. Just don't eat the oysters...

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    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Queen Vicky didn't get up to much after Albert popped his clogs. Hardly anyone ever saw her in England. Her 'boyfriend' John Brown saw her at Balmoral more often - is that the 'getting up to' that you meant?

      Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken do pretty well this side of the Pond as well as Starbucks and MacDonalds. On the other hand the Yanks swarm all over the Burberry Shop in Lower Regent St, W1, as well as the tartan shops on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh looking for their 'Scottish links'.

      You know what English links are?

      Sausages! (There's a joke in there somewhere, but it would take too much space).

      I know there's a British brewery in the Big Apple. He had more trouble from the 'Family' than anyone else, with respect to his building labour. Still, what do the Italians know about beer? (You could write it on the back of a Penny Black and still have room to write the 'Eroica')!

    • mercuryservices profile image
      Author

      Alex Munkachy 4 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      Greetings Alan! I've got to tell you that I noticed quite a bit of anti-Brit sentiment when I time travelled to 1873 so watch out if you head that way. To be fair I think a lot of that was jealousy. Papers from that era were always obsessing over what Queen Victoria was up to, or comparing something that was being built to something that the British already had. I guess it took until after WWII for us 'Mericans to develop enough self-confidence and pride to build an empire of Denny's and McDonald's restaurants all over the world. We were much thinner then as well. Maybe it was because we stopped eating as many oysters. I was thinking of starting a oyster-based diet fad actually. Interested in getting in on the ground floor? Cheerio,

      Alex

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Greetings from the Meridian! Interesting piece about the Big Apple in the mid-1850's, to say the least. I saw a programme somewhere about mid-19th Century New York - or was it late 19th? A programme about filthy cities presented by Dan Snow, that's what it was, where the tenement properties were owned by people who couldn't 'give a toss' about the occupiers and rubbish was building up in the streets - what with horse-drawn traffic leaving residue for rose-growers.

      They were Brits, were they? Still there after 1776 or recently arrived? At the time the Irish were also still 'Brits'. They also owned slaves down in the Deep South (witness 'Gone with The Wind' and the estate named after a legendary Irish king's palace). We burned down the White House in 1814, same as we occupied New York eighty-odd years before 1853 when Georgie Washington was rowed up the Potomac, and we even took the place from the Dutch for a few coloured beads when it had been bought from the Native Americans and named Nieuw Amsterdam (no love lost there at the time, we got chummier since, after William III came and got rid of James II).

      We're getting up people's noses now, though, with RTZ strip mining in the Appalachians.

      We can't win, can we.

    • agusfanani profile image

      agusfanani 4 years ago from Indonesia

      wow, a very interesting hub. I've just like made a travel through time tunnel reading this hub.