Unfortunately the 1900s commenced with two terrible shipwrecks, which somehow foreshadowed the horrors the century was about to face.
In 1904 the steamboat General Slocum caught fire and sank. The boat was manufactured in New York at the end of the previous century and served excursion purposes for the city population. As disasters do not come alone, there were several signs obviously indicating that none should ever put foot on the deck and the boat herself should be put out of her misery. Multiple crashes and groundings gave the floor to more than 1000 Evangelical Lutherans from St. Mark’s Church finding their demise either in flames, or sinking in the deep water.
Not more than a decade later I was anxiously waiting for the greatest passenger liner ever created, even the name of which reflected the humility and body size of her creators. Assembled in Liverpool and sailing from Southampton, the vessel was tested to the maximum to obtain her ultimate potential straight on her maiden voyage. An iceberg put an end to zealous and pretentious dreams along with approximately 1500 voyagers’ life. I never got to wonder at the magnificence of the Titanic. (and I am not going to movies.)
And, frankly, once I have started summing up these disasters I firmly believe I must mention another fire, which ultimately contributed to at least one positive side-effect. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Greenwich Village led to a series of workplace regulations, such as it did no longer create the impression of being a prison camp.
Garment workers, mostly Irish and Jewish immigrant women, sweated under strict conditions. For instance, they were not allowed to leave their working place. The management, for fear employees would steal or leave for unpermitted breaks, successfully closed all doors leading to exits. Minutes after the fire broke out many died inside and falling from downstairs.
Later, company owners were charged with manslaughter, then acquitted, and, ultimately, at a civil suit, they were ‘punished’ with a 75$ fine per victim paid as compensation to relatives. Taking into account that the insurance company paid the bosses 400$ per one deceased and another 60,000$ for reported losses, I wonder how they managed to keep the company afloat. A minor footnote: two years later one of the owners was incarcerated for the second time because he locked the exit doors (he clearly had some door phobia). He must have had some nest egg, otherwise I can not imagine how he afforded to pay a 20$ fine.
Immigrants and foreigners attempted to implement bits and pieces, traditions, segments of their culture into their new habitat. A special thing I would like to emphasize was their cuisine. Already in 1870s I smelt delicious sausages on Coney Island. A German gentleman sold these wrapped in rolls. I firmly believe Germans imported hamburgers and hotdogs to New York. The first exquisite hotdog stand I can remember was called Nathan’s Famouslocated on the same island.
Italians also brought their specialty, namely pizzas. In 1905 the Lombardi’sopened and has been presenting hungry people with first class pizzas ever since. Italians gathered in Little Italy, Lower Manhattan, and Italian Harlem. Many wonderful carriers commenced from this neighborhood, see the Corleone family.
Next to Little Italy the Chinese settled down in Manhattan, in Chinatown, to be more precise. With approximately 100.000 Chinese this neighborhood is the densest Chinese populated area outside China. Most Chinese people found work as cigar sellers and carrying billboards. Many arrived from the Western Coast, where they left from due to racial discrimination and unfavourable working conditions. These castaways quickly discovered that there is a unfulfilled gap of demand in hand laundries and restaurants of Chinese food as their specialty. By the turn of the century there were 7.000 Chinese residents, and only approximately 200 women.
After a huge influx of immigrants, suddenly it seemed that newcomers stirred too much trouble and had minor problems adapting to new life conditions. So they decided that all seats had been taken and curtains should roll down already. Thanks, but stay away. The Immigration Restriction Acts put an an end (or at least on hold) to the American Dream for most non-Americans desiring to smell the land of freedom. I can’t recall the ‘Indians’ having adopted such measures. The acts and the ensuing relative silence ended the ever rising crime and poverty rates.