Place in History

The Bowery Hall of Fame

Years: 2001-2002
Project: A modular mini-museum set up on the Bowery.
Summary: The Bowery Hall of Fame is a museum in miniature, assembled from the remains of a Palace Hotel lodging house cubicle, pilfered cultural artifacts, local propaganda, and bits of historical documentation. Inside this tiny dwelling you will discover strange and wonderful facts about the Bowery, its inhabitants, its structures, its apocryphal history and its unknowable future. From the nineteenth century slumming expeditions of George Washington Chuck Connors, the Mayor of Chinatown, to the modern-day exploits of urban professionals, this museum offers the visitor an explicit view of the world's most famous down-and-out boulevard. Built at a moment of profound physical, social and economic change along the Bowery, the Hall of Fame represents a portal into twenty-first century New York, a place defined by its past yet persistently unfettered by it.

  Page 10: Saved: God On The Bowery  
















Even as the Bowery district became known as “the premier highway of twisted mentalities and souls in pawn, ” as one newspaper columnist referred to in 1933, its other reputation was emerging:  that of a salvation strip.

The first Gospel Rescue Mission opened on Water Street in 1872 when former alcoholic and ex-con Jeremiah McAuley founded his “Helping Hand for Man” on the site of a licentious dance hall. It was backed by stock trader Alfrederich Smith Hatch, who believed in uplifting those unfit for charity, whom he called the “undeserving poor.”

The second gospel rescue mission founded in New York, and the third in the nation, opened in 1879 at 36 Bowery. Called The Bowery Mission, it became the premier provider of charity and evangelism targeted to the city’s “fallen classes.” 

Founder Louis Klopsch expressed its mandate: “Even in mission work, it is customary to draw the line at those who have fallen so low as to make their very touch contamination. But the Bowery Mission, like a life-boat on its merciful errand, plunges down into the lowest depths, if by doing so it may bring up some poor, stinking fellow-mortal into the light of God’s love.”

In addition to free meals and shelters, the Bowery Mission provided “garments for those who need one to shut out the piercing winds of winter” and “[sent] them to a place where they are thoroughly cleansed, and where their clothing is put in a wire cradle  enclosed in a cylindrical hot air chamber and subjected to a temperature that effectually destroys the cause of discomfort.”

Between 1884 and 1932, the Bowery YMCA, housed for a time at Wesley Hall (291-293 Bowery), also provided mission-style services and housing. Today the building houses a Tibetan Buddhist meditation and teaching center. McGurk’s Suicide Hall at 295 Bowery also became a rescue mission for a time during the early 20th century. 

A uniquely American mix of direct social services and religious proselytizing, gospel rescue missions are now a staple of skid rows around the country.

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©2009 Place in History