Fictional men in love have been known to engage in acts of striking bravery; Leander swam the Hellespont, Romeo braved the House of Capulet’s guards for an evening’s canoodling with Juliet, and Sir Gawain fought a whole host of knights and risked drowning merely because his fair maiden asked him to seize a tree branch which she particularly desired. Emanuel Schulhafer, a 25 year old clerk in his father’s grocery store at 1351 Third Avenue in New York, bore little in common with these legendary men. Nevertheless, he was very much in love with a pretty cook who worked in the kitchen of one of the large houses which lined the bucolic streets of the Upper East Side. Schulhafer’s parents did not approve; in 1885 it was simply not acceptable for a Jewish boy to be seen in the company of an Irish cook.
Nevertheless, on the night of January 7, Schulhafer invited her to join him at a performance of The Private Secretary at the Madison Square Theater. Schulhafer donned his best garb; Newmarket coat, three button vest, boiled white shirt complete with a high starched collar, and a pair of highly polished “toothpick” shoes, so-called because they were exceedingly narrow and finished in a sharp point. After scalloping his bangs so that they hung in curls along his forehead, the erstwhile beau picked up his Irish belle and headed for the theater.
Defying his parents was one thing, but defying them and getting caught was more than Schulhafer was willing to undertake no matter how pretty the colleen. Afraid of being recognized, Schulhafer donned a disguise a few blocks from the theater. He’d chosen his means of concealment poorly, for it was a long and bushy gray beard that flowed to nearly chest length. Even worse than its size and color, the beard was entirely too big, and hung loosely on Schulhafer’s narrow face. His date’s reaction is unknown, but she and Schulhafer took their seats front and center.
The first act went fine, but when Schulhafer reached over to whisper a comment in his date’s ear before the commencement of the second his beard got caught in her dress, and his efforts to free himself excited the attention of a few of the theater’s patrons. As the second act got underway, the theater-goers spent more time watching Schulhafer than the actors. Titters of laughter became giggles, for each time that he moved his head the oversized beard refused to follow suit. Quiet whispers became a little louder as people speculated on the young man’s identity; a bank clerk who’d absconded with funds and was out on a night on the town in disguise, or perhaps a detective sent to keep an eye on a suspect. Finally the giggles and loud whispers became too much for the ushers and Schulhafer was more or less discreetly hustled from his seat and into an upstairs office. Here, Captain Williams of the New York Police Department waited, and placed Schulhafer under arrest. The cook presumably found her own way home.
The next morning, after a night spent surrounded by the City’s Criminal classes, Schulhafer looked much the worse for wear. The high starched collar had wilted, whitewash from the jail’s walls stained his jacket, his hair presented a dapper picture, and his gold spectacles hung askance. Peering down at him Judge Duffy, whose diminutive size belied a powerful voice, read the charges; “That said defendant did disguise his face by wearing a false beard and moustaches and moved said beard and moustaches to and fro, annoying the patrons of said theater.” As such, Schulhafer’s conduct was a breach of the peace.
Judge Duffy asked to see the wig. “Young man, what did you parade yourself in this thing for? Why didn’t you go to the theatre like a man?”
“Because your Honor, I was with a party that I did not want to be recognized in her company and…”
“Another man’s wife I suppose?”
“No sir, no sir, nothing of the kind.”
“A widow, maybe then?
“I assure you, it was not.”
“You violated the law, anyhow; but after all I think you did it innocently. Five dollars or five days.” Schulhafer’s choice was an easy one, he peeled out five dollars from his wallet, took up his beard which he’d promised to return to the hairdresser, and sheepishly boarded the horse-car for home. History does not record if he got another date.