Weegee Wednesday: “Drunks Arrested on Bowery”

Weegee, Drunks arrested on the Bowery, 1943-45 (2395.1993)

Across the street from Elizabeth Tailor, and slightly below Canal, the American Jobbing Co. Inc. once occupied 23 Elizabeth St. (Now there is an awning for and perhaps an entrance to “New York Life.”) A few doors down or slightly south of site of the former American Jobbing Company (sellers of surplus clothing from the Army and Navy) and presently New York Life (whatever that is), in a building built in 1881, at 19 Elizabeth St., is the NYPD’s 5th precinct. (The 5th precinct is on Twitter). The above photo was made in front of the 5th precinct, on Elizabeth St., perhaps the cap-wearing, alleged “drunks” were arrested on the Bowery, which was a short block away.

There was no crime on the Bowery, only false alarms. The boys would get together for a drinking party and pass the bottle around. Feeling sociable, they would pull a fire alarm. When the firemen arrived, the boys would invite them to have a drink. Then the “pie wagon” would come and the boys would get thirty-day vacations in the workhouse. The fire alarm at the corner of the Bowery and Rivington had more false alarms than any other box in the city. Weegee by Weegee, 1961, p. 22.

Weegee, Naked City, 1945, pp. 172-173

The crop marks and dimension, 6 3/4, above the image, on the top of the photo, suggest that this is the photograph that was used in the making of Naked City, the image in Naked City is a little less than 6 3/4 inches wide. The diagonal line and barely legible letters and number in the upper left corner indicate that the photo was made between 1943-45. What is the mysterious light circle on the sidewalk in the foreground of the photo? I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that it was the photographer’s shadow. A theory: the photo was made at approximately noon and long shadows would have been unavoidable. Weegee dodged his shadow out of the photo and in the production of Naked City the pre-production workers retouched the image to make the unexposed circle barely visible in the book. Spoiler alert: This parenthetical comment might foreshadow a future blog post: Weegee’s Shadow… That’s something to look forward to!

“Hobo” Jack Turner (Ernest Hare), “The Bowery Bums,” Issue date September 24, 1928, from The Internet Archive.

Judging from the stats in this PDF of Compstat crime complaints from the City of New York Police Department, the reduction in crime during the last ten years in the 5th precinct is staggering. Perhaps there was not a lot of crime on the Bowery in 1945, but in 1990, there were 4,476 “crime complaints” and in 2015 there were 943 “crime complaints.” The Bowery is the safest it has been in a long time.

flying and popular_mechanics_1957_07
Ads for American Jobbing Co. in Popular Mechanics, July 1957 and Flying, February 1958

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PS. A few days ago we made a Fansinaflashbulb field trip to “the scene of the crime.” Fortunately we didn’t see any drunks arrested but the black hole or dark circle on the sidewalk in the foreground of the photo might be the photographer’s shadow and was well-used. The original-looking green lights at the entrance to the 5th precinct were on.

Weegee Wednesday is an occasional series exploring, or just enjoying, the life and work of Weegee.

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1 Response to Weegee Wednesday: “Drunks Arrested on Bowery”

  1. Monika says:

    I don’t see the diagonal line with faint numbers in the ULC. I guess you must mean on the image, which is very dark there. I’d love to see it to know what you mean about the dating of the print.



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