“Town Gossip.” (May 5, 1866)


Published in the Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper on May 5, 1866, the Town Gossip column gives observations and commentary on local New York happenings like the health hazards that street vendors present, reviews of new plays, and the passing of Thomas Downing. Downing, known as the “Oyster King of New York,” owned and operated the Oyster House, one of the most successful eating houses and catering companies in New York during the nineteenth century.


The car strike is over, and over, we are sorry to say, badly for the poor drivers. They have been forced by their wants back to their work. The companies would not yield to their just demands, and sent into the country to hire new drivers. The old hands knowing this, and feeling that they could not starve any longer, gave in, and are back at their work for $2 per day.

The next thing that occupies public attention is the Board of Health, and what they are doing. We think we see their movements in many little ways; such, for instance, as some activity in street-cleaning and in garbage removal—though, on both these points, if we were asked on our veracity, we could not say but what we could point out spots for the display of their talent. Occasionally, on our accustomed haunts, we miss an old familiar line of tabbies that used, after their decease, to occupy prominent positions beside the curb for a week; now they seem to disappear on the first or second day. Again, on our daily walk, there were certain areas into which we used to gaze and calculate exactly the sum total of typhoid there was in the accumulated filth of that spot. Whether it be the individual work of the Board of Health—and we never will believe that the Commissioners did it themselves—or the moral effect of their institution, which has frightened the owner or tenant into cleanliness, we do not know; but the fact is ocularly apparent to us that the spot is comparatively clean, and that the carcasses of three deceased rates, and a bushel or two of ancient cabbage, to say nothing of other trifles, have disappeared.

But there is one other thing we would like to say to the Board of Health, and we do hope they will pay attention to it. It is about green apples and other combustibles. This very day we saw a wagon peddling bananas from a street corner that were enough to bread a pestilence. They were green, hard, and astringent; and just now, with the spring weather and the yearning of every one for a dietary change, we would not be surprised but they found buyers, and we do protest that no more fearful poison could be introduced into the human stomach than this so-called fruit. We would rather have seen a wagon load of strychnine retailed in the street; and yet this licensed vendor—so his wagon said—was allowed to proceed in his traffic undisturbed. In a few weeks there will be other poisons in that way. Old women will sit on corners peddling out the green poisons to children, and the markets will be full of them. With their advent comes cholera and summer complaints, indigestion, cramps, disease and death.

Preserve us, good Board of Health, from the green fruit, and Providence will reward you with a better stock of ripe, further in the season!

What a pleasant thing it is to read that letter from the Queen of England to George Peabody. Though Mr. Peabody is not a New Yorker, yet we do feel a local interest in the man, and a strong predisposition to do him honor when he comes this way, which will be in a few days.

We haven’t the letter by us just now, but the purport of it is this: Victoria, knowing how much George had done for the good of her subjects, and feeling that she can do nothing for him in return, writes him a letter, the subject matter of which is this, though not in these words: “George,” she says, “you’re an honest man, and have done some noble things. I hear you’re going to America; and I hope you’ll hurry back, for I don’t really know how to spare you. I think quite as much of you as though you were an Englishman, and I would like to do something handsome for you; but as you’ve got more money now than you want, I can only offer you the Order of the Bath or a title of nobility—any one you like—but I know you won’t have it. So, as I must relieve my mind by giving you something, I’ll give you my own miniature, set in diamonds; and so God bless you, old fellow. Your affectionate friend,


Mr. Peabody will be here in a few days, and though we hate hero-worship, we hope that something quiet will be done to show him that we feel a little proud of him.

From white respectability to black—and we are about to speak of the passing away of one who, with all the disadvantages of his color—for he was a black man—commanded the highest respect of the first of our citizens. There is hardly one New Yorker of 40 years but will pleasantly remember Thomas Downing, of Broad street, and the good lunches and dinners he has had in that famous old cellar, where all our old school of merchants—they were few and far between now—once went. Well, Thomas Downing is dead, aged 75 years, and full of honors, as well as comfortably off in a worldly way. Downing never presumed upon his successes in life, or believed that it added any to his consequence or respectability to make money, and as a result, he always commanded the respect of every white man, though he was an earnest advocate of the rights of his own color. At his funeral many of our first merchants assisted, and in the impressiveness of the occasion, one forgot that he was assisting in the last rites to the member of a heretofore despised race, and only remembered the fellow-man. Peace to his ashes!

New York progresses rapidly in the brilliancy of its salons. Billiards have become so essentially a necessity, that style is positively demanded, as well as solid comfort. Both these requisites have been met by a new suite of rooms opened at No. 9 Carroll place, Bleecker street, by/Mr. Henry English. Ten thousand dollars have been spent in fitting up these rooms, which have six of Kavanagh & Decker’s tables, with every belonging that luxury can suggest. Such establishments mark our progress as a people.

And now of the theatres:

We always mention the sensation of the week first, and upon that idea we make no doubt that the public would say that we ought to speak of Miss Bateman; but in that we differ. Miss Bateman is no longer a sensation, though she is undoubtedly great in her profession; her future is settled, and all we can say or not say will have no effect whatever. Her houses are sure, and that tells the whole story.

The Winter Garden wants no words from us. They are crowding the house every night with the attractions offered by Barney Williams and wife, and will continue to do so as long as these parties choose to stay.

We cannot help thinking that the only real sensation of the week has been Mr. Charles Barras, at Wood’s Theatre. Mr. Barras professed nothing, but has done a great deal; he has made his audiences laugh a good honest laugh. Mr. Barras is good as the “Hypocondriac;” how he will be in other things we do not know, but we fancy that the man who can do that, can do more.

The Broadway is about to produce the Menken. We all object to the production; but we will all go and see it, nevertheless, especially when it is produced at a cost of about $500 per night. When it is produced, we shall enter into an elaborate criticism of it.

Barnum is having a great success. The “Sphinx” puzzles all kinds of people; one says it is one thing, and one says it is another, and they are all mistaken.

At the Academy, Grover’s Opera Troupe have had a triumph. The secret is that the people have come to them. They have had crowded houses, and we don’t know that any criticism can be offered better than that.

Every day in New York there are little private reunions, concerts, etc., which are well worth bringing before the public, but that the public might be suspected of not feeling an interest in them. But notwithstanding this suspicion, we will record a “Musical Reunion,” as the title is, given by Mr. J. J. Watson, at the house of the Hon. Le Grand G. Capers, on the evening of the 18th. The performance of his pupils ought to be a pleasant thing to Mr. Watson; and were we to judge by the applause, the whole affair was a great success.

“Oysters!—Oysters!—Oysters!” (March 30, 1838)

[future url=”PS_NYHerald171857 “An Oyster House Millionaire About to Retire” (January 7, 1857)

[future url=”PS_Liberator2261841“From the Journal of Commerce.” (February 26, 1841)

[future url=”PS_NYHerald7261838 “Extraordinary Turtle at Downing’s.” (July 26, 1838)

APA Citation:
Newspaper, Frank Leslie's Illustrated. “Town Gossip.” (May 5, 1866). (2022, November 01). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Newspaper, Frank Leslie's Illustrated. "“Town Gossip.” (May 5, 1866)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (01 Nov. 2022). Web. 23 Jul. 2024
Last updated: 2023, September 11
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