Jefferson Market Courthouse in New York

A Love Affair with a Landmark in Manhattan: An Arresting Drama in Greenwich Village. [Opinions expressed are the views of OLD JEFF unless attributed to other - - potentially less-reliable - - sources, i.e., newcomers who have not been around since 1832 on Sixth Avenue.]

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Pleasant Fiction of Presumed Innocence

Spotlight is on this title:
• • Arthur Train's book COURTS AND CRIMINALS
[NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1922]

• • This 305-page hardcover features b/w photographs of court scenes. There is a wonderful b/w photo used us a Frontispiece: a scene inside the Jefferson Market Police Court, New York. Other pictures show Harry K. Thaw at "The Trial of the Century," etc. Arthur Train's nonfiction account begins with "The Pleasant Fiction of the Presumption of Innocence," and proceeds through such topics as Detectives who Detect, Women in the Courts, Tricks of the Trade, The Mala Vita in America, and more.
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• • Photo: • Jefferson Market • current photo

Jefferson Market.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Jeff Close Up: 8 March 1878

"I May Be Wrong - But I Think You're Wonderful" went the old song. Though this tune was not written for Old Jeff, it suits.
• • Nominate your favorite song that seems to fit Jefferson Market - - and the best title will be posted.
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• • Illustration: • Jefferson Market Court 1878 • from Railroad Magazine

Jefferson Market.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Playing the "Prisoner's Song"

No wonder the "Prisoner's Song" was a huge hit during the 1920s for Texas vocalist Vernon Dalhart. Doesn't it seem as though everyone was in Jefferson Market Court House or behind bars during the Jazz Age?

• • In February 1927, Mae West came up to see Old Jeff for many weeks. Despite not being your typical felon, after this trial in Jefferson Market Court, Mae was sentenced to hard time in the workhouse.
• • Come up and see Mae:
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• • Photo: • Mae West in Jefferson Market Court 1927 •

Jefferson Market.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Mae West: Jailbird, Feb. 1927

Former felon Dewitt Gilmore, 41, served time in the Groveland Correctional Facility [Sonyea, NY] as well as in a federal prison in New Jersey for check-cashing fraud. Using his "street cred" to break into publishing, Gilmore penned several novels about life behind bars and recently inked a four-book-deal with St. Martin's Press for a sum "in the low six figures," he said. Large publishing house are rubbing their hands together anticipating the profits from a "surging interest in street lit" in February 2006.
• • Once again it must be said: Mae West was ahead of her time.

In 1927 she spent the night of February 9th incarcerated in Jefferson Market Prison, held in a cell with prostitutes, addicts, and pickpockets. After a trial at Jefferson Market Court, she was found guilty and sentenced to the Women's Workhouse for ten days in April 1927. [The Warden shaved off two days for good behavior.]
• • Mae was paid $1,000 to write about her experiences for a women's magazine. Some of her essay appears here. [Mae donated the $1,000 to the workhouse to establish a library for female inmates.]
• • Released from the lock-up, Mae told reporters she had enough material for several plays. In April 1928, the actress opened on Broadway at the Royale Theatre playing a "kept woman" with an unsavoury past and a jailbird lover named Chick. Set in a saloon on the Bowery, her play "Diamond Lil" became a novel and a Hollywood film [retitled "She Done Him Wrong"]. Mae West, a star with "street cred"!
• • Come up and see Mae:
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• • Photo: • Mae West in 1927 •

Jefferson Market.

Friday, February 10, 2006

PG Wodehouse & Jefferson Market

Dying on Valentine's Day is a distinctly UNfunny final act for a laugh-master. Thus we come to praise P.G. Wodehouse in mid-February - - not to bury him. British born Pelham Grenville Wodehouse [15 October 1881 – 14 February 1975] was a prolific humorist best known for his Bertie Wooster novels. Wodehouse relocated to New York and was living in Remsenburg, Long Island when he was knighted, shortly before he died.
• • Of his 1915 novel Psmith, Journalist, whose plot points constellate around Jefferson Market Court, Wodehouse noted: The "gangs" of New York exist in fact. I have not invented them. Most of the incidents in this story are based on actual happenings."
• • Psmith, Journalist by P. G. Wodehouse
• • • • Chapter XXIII. Reductions in the Staff • • • •

- - excerpt - -
• • He pointed to the door. A small boy was standing there, holding a note.
• • "Mr. Smith?"
• • "Sir to you," said Psmith.
• • "P. Smith?"
• • "The same. This is your lucky day."
• • "Cop at Jefferson Market give me dis to take to youse."
• • "A cop in Jefferson Market?" repeated Psmith. "I did not know I had friends among the constabulary there. Why, it's from Comrade Windsor." He opened the envelope and read the letter. "Thanks," he said, giving the boy a quarter-dollar.
• • It was apparent the Kid was politely endeavouring to veil his curiosity. Master Maloney had no such scruples.
• • "What's in de letter, boss?" he inquired.
• • "The letter, Comrade Maloney, is from our Mr. Windsor, and relates in terse language the following facts, that our editor last night hit a policeman in the eye, and that he was sentenced this morning to thirty days on Blackwell's Island."
• • "He's de guy!" admitted Master Maloney approvingly.
• • "What's that?" said the Kid. "Mr. Windsor bin punchin' cops! What's he bin doin' that for?"
• • "He gives no clue. I must go and find out. Could you help Comrade Maloney mind the shop for a few moments while I push round to Jefferson Market and make inquiries?"
• • "Sure. But say, fancy Mr. Windsor cuttin' loose that way!" said the Kid admiringly.
• • The Jefferson Market Police Court is a little way down town, near Washington Square. It did not take Psmith long to reach it, and by the judicious expenditure of a few dollars he was enabled to obtain an interview with Billy in a back room.
• • The chief editor of Cosy Moments was seated on a bench, looking upon the world through a pair of much blackened eyes. His general appearance was dishevelled. He had the air of a man who has been caught in the machinery.
• • "Hullo, Smith," he said. "You got my note all right then?"
• • Psmith looked at him, concerned.
• • "Comrade Windsor," he said, "what on earth has been happening to you?"
• • "Oh, that's all right," said Billy. "That's nothing."
• • "Nothing! You look as if you had been run over by a motor-car."
• • "The cops did that," said Billy, without any apparent resentment. "They always turn nasty if you put up a fight. I was a fool to do it, I suppose, but I got so mad. They knew perfectly well that I had nothing to do with any pool-room downstairs."
• • Psmith's eye-glass dropped from his eye.
• • "Pool-room, Comrade Windsor?"
• • "Yes. The house where I live was raided late last night. It seems that some gamblers have been running a pool-room on the ground floor. Why the cops should have thought I had anything to do with it, when I was sleeping peacefully upstairs, is more than I can understand. Anyway, at about three in the morning there was the dickens of a banging at my door. I got up to see what was doing, and found a couple of Policemen there. They told me to come along with them to the station. I asked what on earth for. I might have known it was no use arguing with a New York cop. They said they had been tipped off that there was a pool-room being run in the house, and that they were cleaning up the house, and if I wanted to say anything I'd better say it to the magistrate. . . .
Source: • • Psmith, Journalist by P. G. Wodehouse
- - excerpt - -
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• • Illustration: • Jefferson Market in 1895 •

Jefferson Market.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Women of the Night Court, 1908-9

Prodigal daughters! Jefferson Market is filled with mostly undocumented memories of the women of the Night Court. Muck-raker Rheta Childe Dorr wrote about them often. Here's an excerpt from her book.
• • What Eight Million Women Want • •
by Rheta Childe Dorr [1866 - 1948]
Dorr's articles [for Hampton's Broadway Magazine] were published as a book in 1910.

• • The women of the Night Court. Prodigal daughters! Between December, 1908, and December, 1909, no less than 5,000 of them passed through the guarded door, under the blaze of the electric lights. There is never an hour, from nine at night until three in the morning, when the prisoners’ bench in Jefferson Market Court is without its full quota of women. Old —­ prematurely old, and young —­ pitifully young; white and brown; fair and faded; sad and cynical; starved and prosperous; rag-draped and satin-bedecked; together they wait their turn at judgment. Quietly moving back and forth before the prisoners’ bench you see a woman, tall, graceful, black-gowned. She is the salaried probation officer, modern substitute for the old-time volunteer mission worker. The probation officer’s serious blue eyes burn with no missionary zeal. There is no spark of sentimental pity in the keen gaze she turns on each new arrival.
• • When the bench is full of women, the judge turns to her to inquire: “Anybody there you want, Miss Miner?”

• • Miss Maude E. Miner usually shakes her head. She diagnoses her cases like a physician, and she wastes no time on incurables. Once in a while, perhaps several times in the course of a night, Miss Miner touches a girl on the arm. At once the girl rises and follows the probation officer into an adjoining room. If she is what she appears, young in evil, if she has a story which rings true, a story of poverty and misfortune, rather than of depravity, she goes not back to the prisoners’ bench. When her turn at judgment comes, Miss Miner stands beside her, and in a low voice meant only for the judge, she tells the facts. The girl weeps as she listens. To hear one’s troubles told is sometimes more terrible than to endure them. Court adjourns at three in the morning, and this girl, with the others — ­if others have been claimed by the probation officer — ­goes out into the empty street, under the light of the tall tower, whose clock has begun all over again its monotonous race toward midnight. No policeman accompanies the group. The girls are under no manner of duress. They have promised to go home with Miss Miner, and they go. The night’s adventure, entered into with dread, with callous indifference, or with thoughtless mirth, ends in a quiet bedroom and a pillow wet with tears.
• • Waverley House, as Miss Miner’s home is known, has sheltered, during the past year, over 300 girls. Out of that number 119 have returned to their homes, or are earning a living at useful work.
• • One hundred and nineteen saved out of 5,000 prodigals! In point of numbers this is a melancholy showing, but in comparison with other efforts at rescue work it is decidedly encouraging.
• • Nothing quite like Waverley House has appeared in other American cities, but it is a type of detention home for girls which is developing logically out of the probation system. Delinquent girls under 16 are now considered, in all enlightened communities, subjects for the Juvenile Court. They are hardly ever associated with older delinquents. But a girl over sixteen is likely to be committed to prison, and may be locked in cells with criminal and abandoned women of the lowest order.
• • Waverley House is the first practical protest against this stupid and evil-encouraging policy.
• • The house, which stands a few blocks distant from the Night Court, was established and is maintained by the Probation Association of New York, consisting of the probation officers in many of the city courts, and of men and women interested in philanthropy and social reform. The District Attorney of New York County, Charles S. Whitman, is president of the Association, Maude E. Miner is its secretary, Mrs. Russell Sage, Miss Anne Morgan, Miss Mary Dreier, president of the New York Women’s Trade Union League, Mrs. Richard Aldrich, formerly president of the Women’s Municipal League, Andrew Carnegie, Edward T. Devine, head of New York’s organized charities, Homer Folks, and Fulton Cutting are among the supporters of Waverley House. Miss Stella Miner is the capable and sympathetic superintendent of the house.
• • The place is in no sense a reformatory. It is an experiment station, a laboratory where the gravest and most baffling of all the diseases which beset society is being studied. Girls arrested for moral delinquency and paroled to probation officers are taken to Waverley House, where they remain, under closest study and searching inquiry, until the best means of disposing of them is devised. Some are sent to their homes, some to hospitals, some to institutions, some placed on long probation.
• • Maude E. Miner, who declined a chair of mathematics in a woman’s college to work in the Night Court, is one of an increasing number of women who are attempting a great task. They are trying to solve a problem which has baffled the minds of the wisest since civilization dawned. They have set themselves to combat an evil fate which every year overtakes countless thousands of young girls, dragging them down to misery, disease, and death. At the magnitude of the effort these women have undertaken one stands appalled. Will they ever reach the heart of the problem? Can they ever hope to do more than reclaim a few individuals? This much did the missionaries before them.
• • “We could reclaim fully 75%,” declares Miss Miner, “if only we could find a way to begin nearer the beginning.”
• • To begin the reform of any evil at the beginning, or near the beginning, instead of near the end is now regarded as an economy of effort. That is what educators are trying to do with juvenile delinquency; what physicians are doing with disease; what philanthropists are beginning to do with poverty. . . .
- - excerpt - -
Reformer Rheta Childe Dorr [1866 - 1948] was committed to bettering the lives of the poorest and the weakest members of society, namely women and children. Rheta Childe Dorr was a war correspondent, an author, and an advocate of women's equal rights. These chapters began as articles published by Hampton's Broadway Magazine, which provided a middle ground between investigative magazines [like McClure's] and popular literary periodicals.
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• • Illustration: • Women's Court Jefferson Market [wood engraving]• Bernard P. Schardt [1904-1979]
• • Photo: MAUDE E. MINER, Probation Officer [undated]

Jefferson Market.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Tertium Quid

Brains alive!
One reader of The Villager wrote in about a better spot for teen lounge:

• • • • To The Editor: • • • •
• • The Jefferson Market library is small and intensely used by its existing constituency, primarily adults and children. In my opinion, there is a more appropriate site for a teen center, located only a few blocks from Jefferson Market: the Hudson Park Library branch. Hudson Park, which is located in the complex of buildings that includes the Tony Dapolito Recreation Center, already houses many activities for teens, including gyms, a pool, and a weight room.
• • • Putting a teen center in the Hudson branch would consolidate teen services in one location. In fact, the Hudson branch is so small, it might be advisable to relocate its adult and children’s services to Jefferson Market, so that the entire space at the Hudson branch could be devoted to serving teens. Special, teen-friendly staff could be assigned to this location.
• • Let’s use available Jefferson Market funds to make necessary repairs to the exterior of the building. Other sources of funding may be available for teen services at the Hudson branch.

Carol Chave
Source:The Villager | Vol. 75, No. 37 | Feb. 1 - 7, 2006 | Letters to the editor |
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• • Illustration: • Richard Haas, electroplate, 1974

Jefferson Market.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Go Ask! [Malice?]

During the 1960s, an acid-rock group Jefferson Airplane was accelerating towards commercial success. Their album Surrealistic Pillow (1967) yielded a few Top Ten hits including "White Rabbit," written by their singer Grace Slick.
Old Jeff has revised her lyrics and hopes you're in the mood for a duet.

• • SLY GRAB-IT • •
[sung to the tune of "WHITE RABBIT" by Grace Slick]

One brick makes you larger
But pollution makes you small
And the lies that Sue Kent feeds you
Don't do anything at all.
Go ask Withers,
When Jeff needs an overhaul.

And if you go chasing funding
And the neighbors hit the wall
Tell 'em a sympathetic senator
Has assented with his scrawl.
No malice,
But repairs will be stalled.

When socialites on the Board
Get up and tell you where to go
And the truth has been uncovered
And your mind is moving slow
It's not malice --
Just politics, you know.

When illogic and masonry
Crumble down on Villagers' heads
And a planned teen lounge's going under
And Sue Kent is "off her head"
Remember what the landmark said:
"Fix my facade instead!
Fix my facade instead!
Fix my facade instead!"
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• • Illustration: • to come

Jefferson Market.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Mae West at Jefferson Market Feb. 4th

Watch the Saturday 4 February 2006 re-broadcast of the MAE WEST episode on "DEAD FAMOUS: Ghostly Encounters" [A&E's Biography Channel] for a scene or two set at Jefferson Market, a landmarked library building now - - but a working courthouse back in February 1927 when the actress was arrested and jailed for obscenity.
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• • Illustration: • to come

Jefferson Market.

Mission Implausible

Is it true what we've heard on Sixth Avenue?
• • Yesterday a groundhog residing in Jefferson Market Garden emerged from a dugout. The groundhog predicted that we'd have six more weeks of Withers before a Greenwich Villager would lop off Susan C.Y.A. Kent's head and use it for soup. [Caveat: avoid Chinese restaurants until our source investigates further.]
• • To make sure she can predict what Villagers want for the Jefferson Market Library restoration, City Councilmember Christine Quinn sent a mailing to 1,200 of her constituents seeking their input. Question: Why didn't she do it BEFORE she recently rounded up more than $1.3 million of taxpayers' money, enabling the library to squander at least $184,000? [About $184,000 was spent in preliminary design work on the interior project. Bye-bye, benjamins!]
• • The letter that Quinn sent to Villagers invites replies to this question: “Is it more important to maintain funding for the planned interior renovations, or to switch the funding to the exterior renovations?” The letter asks for responses to be sent to Quinn’s district office at 224 W. 30th St., #1206, 10001 by 12 February 2006. Email questions to - - and do make sure to get this squared away before you do your Valentine's Day shopping, eh?
• • It's the "Year of the Dog" - - so does that increase or decrease your craving for Hunan cuisine in the West Village? Or would you rather go vegetarian for awhile?
• • Wasn't that Mario Batali on the Food Network giving his recipe for chick-lit Susan a la Kent? Remember what the groundhog said. Feed your head, said Jefferson Airplane, feed your head. . . .
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• • Illustration: severed head • to come

Jefferson Market.