The Original Flagpole Sitta’

You can be forgiven, if in all the hullabaloo surrounding Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and polka-dot Saturday if you completely forgot to celebrate Evacuation Day this year. Indeed, we almost completely let the matter slip our minds, belatedly remembering to commemorate November 25 with a frigid walk in Manhattan’s Battery Park with an attractive female companion of Forgotten Stories.

In short, November 25, 1783 at the close of the Revolutionary War, was the day marked by the British and the Americans for the British evacuation of New York, which had been held by the Redcoats since they’d wrested it from General Washington in 1776. As the British Army slunk out of town one of their last acts was to free the prisoners of war, one of whom, John Pintard, asked his jailor for a prediction, “Sergeant, what do you think will become of us?”

“You may all go to the devil together,” Sergeant Keefe replied.

“Thank you Sergeant,” came Pintard’s cutting reply, “but we have had too much of your company in this world, to wish to follow you into the next.” Keefe and the jailors departed with the Americans’ laughter ringing in their ears.

Provost Marshall William Cunningham, in charge of the prison, had his own adventures that morning. On Murray Street, a tavern keeper hung out the Stars and Stripes, anticipating by a few hours Washington’s triumphant return. Sighting the offensive flag on his way out of town, Cunningham ordered the tavern keeper to “Take in that flag, the City is ours till noon.” His order refused, Cunningham with an oath attempted to carry out the deed himself, but the tavern keeper’s wife, attacking him with a broom handle, raised clouds of powder from his wig, and forced him to beat a retreat. The British soldiers stationed at Wall and Broad Street, where Federal Hall now stands, were the last to leave their posts and march to the ships in New York Harbor, waiting to take them home. At Fort George, at the later sight of the New York Customs House (which is now the Museum of the American Indian), the British formally turned over the City to General Washington, and departed.

American artillery, under General Knox, was unlimbered in Battery Park, and prepared to fire a salute to new American flag as it was raised over Fort George. Here, a final ignominy was revealed. The British soldiers had nailed their flag to the pole, and to prevent its removal, had greased the flagpole. Attempts to climb up and remove the offensive banner proved unavailing; and bystanders debated whether to simply cut down the pole and erect a new one in its place, a time consuming effort that threatened to derail the day’s itinerary.

Into the breach stepped Jacob van Arsdale, formerly a sailor, who’d enlisted in the Continental Army at age 19. Van Arsdale served in the disastrous U.S. campaign in Canada, had been captured, exchanged, fought Indians on the Western frontier, and then returned to his native New York at the end of the Revolution. Demonstrating more brains than his contemporaries, Van Arsdale requested a saw, hatchet, gimlet and nails from Peter Goelet’s hardware store in Hanover Square, and with the assistance of a few comrades, began to nail them to the pole. A ladder got him a little further up, and by fits and stars Van Arsdale reached the top, and ripped down the British flag. With Van Arsdale’s assistance, Lieutenant Anthony Glean ran up the Star Spangled Banner, and Knox’s artillery boomed forth with 13 guns, one for each state in the new nation. As he descended, spectators passed the hat for Van Arsdale, with Washington himself contributing to the considerable sum that was collected.

For a century or more, Evacuation Day was a holiday in New York City, with military parades, flag raising  and sumptuous dinners. Boys typically requested of their masters, “It’s Evacuation Day, when the British ran way, Please, dear Master, give us a holiday.”

Want to charm your friends with scintillating stories of the distant past? Anxious to read entertaining stories of a world gone by? Do yourself (and us) a favor, and follow us on Twitter. Better yet, to be sure not to miss a single post, enter your email address at the top right to receive a copy of each new forgotten story in your inbox.

In the meantime, some of our all time favorite forgotten stories are:

The Vast New York Shoe Conspiracy: 

The Human Rat Eater of Philadelphia:


A Forgotten Stories Buffet: 


A Public Service Announcement from 1896

On behalf of the Women’s Rescue League, we here at Forgotten Stories wish to circulate the following letter:

To Whom It May Concern:

At a Regular meeting of the Woman’s Rescue League, held June 29, 1896, the following whereases and resolutions were passed:

Whereas, the alarming increase of immorality among young women in the United States is most startling to those who have investigated the subject of disease and vice.

Whereas, a great curse has been inflicted on the people of this country because of the present bicycle craze, and if a halt is not called soon, 75 per cent of the cyclists will be an army of invalids within the next ten years.

Whereas, disease among the young women is most appalling because of the imprudent use of the bicycle, by bringing the diseases peculiar to women. Furthermore, immoderate bicycling by young women is to be deplored because of the evil associations and opportunities offered cycling sports.

Whereas, bicycling by young women has helped swell the ranks of reckless girls who finally drift into the standing army of outcast women of the United States more than any other medium.

Whereas, “Bicycle run for Christ” by the so called Christians should be properly termed “Bicycle run for Satan” for the bicycle is the devil’s advocate agent morally and physically in thousands of instances; therefore be it

Resolved, that the Woman’s Rescue League denounces bicycle riding by young women because of producing immoral suggestions and imprudent associations both in language and dress which have a tendency to make women not only unwomanly, but immodest as well.

Resolved, that married women should not resort to riding the wheel unless they wish to prevent motherhood; and be it further

Resolved, that the Woman’s Rescue league petition all true women and clergymen to aid in denouncing the present bicycle craze by women as indecent and vulgar; and be it further

Resolved, that copies of these resolutions be sent where they will do the most effective good for the cause of purity and morality.

Charlotte Smith,

President, Woman’s Rescue League, WashingtonD.C.

Virginia N. Lount,

Secretary, Legislation Committee


Want to charm your friends with scintillating stories of the distant past? Anxious to read entertaining stories of a world gone by? Do yourself (and us) a favor, and follow us on Twitter. Better yet, to be sure not to miss a single post, enter your email address at the top right to receive a copy of each new forgotten story in your inbox.

In the meantime, some of our all time favorite forgotten stories are:

The Vast New York Shoe Conspiracy:

The Human Rat Eater of Philadelphia:


A Forgotten Stories Buffet: 

A Happy Thanksgiving from Forgotten Stories (and Ike)


Ike, Mamie and the First Family from 1954.

A Plethora of Forgotten Men, Women, and a Few Heroes to Boot

Betty Ashe and Blanche Patnaud awoke early in the morning of October 21, 1921, coughing fom thick smoke. Starting in the building’s basement, the fire had spread upwards through the air shaft to their fifth floor walkup; grabbing their kimonos, Ashe and Patnaud attempted to make it to the rear of the building, where the fire escape promised a relatively easy escape, but flames darting from the dumb waiter shaft blocked the way.

The two girls’ fate (Betty is on the right, Blanche is on the left above) seem sealed as the rest of the building’s inhabitants scrambled for safety. Jesse Symons, on the third floor, broke open the door of his elderly neighbor, and carried her to the fire escape, where both were able to jump to safety. Mahion Huyler, age 21, threw his younger sister over his shoulder, took his mother by the arm, and guided them through the smoke filled hallways and out the front door.

On the fifth floor however, the two young women were panicked. The only hope for relief lay at their front window, and the girls climbed onto the six inch ledge in bare feet. More than 90 feet below them Policeman Patrick J. Doyle ran to the scene. He’d already discovered the fire, sprinted to the corner to raise the alarm at the police box, then hurried back, beating his stick against iron fence posts to call other policemen walking their beats to the building.

Doyle shouted at the women not to jump. “We can’t help it, we have got to jump.” shouted Ashe. Doyle ran into No. 137, and Policeman Stephen Campbell, who’d heard Doyle’s fence post alarm, ran into No. 141, both hoping to crawl out on the window ledge which supported the girls and grab them before they jumped. Doyle, assisted by neighborhood iceman Billy Johnson, got the closest. With Johnson holding his legs, Doyle was just near enough to graze Ashe’s foot. Paralyzed with fear, Ashe looked down at him, “It’s no good, we’ve got to jump.”

In what seemed the nick of time, the a New York Fire Department Truck 25 arrived, bells clanging. As smoke and flames silhouetted the women in the window, the 85 foot extension ladder was raised, and Fireman John J. Blumert scrambled up, followed by Dennis O’Keith. As Blumert reached the top of the ladder, his heart sank. By some four or five feet, the ladder was too short, and like Doyle before him, he could just barely graze the sides of Ashe’s feet with his fingers.

Blumert acted quickly. Turning backwards, on a ladder swaying some 85 feet in the air, he wrapped his legs around the ladders penultimate rung, then threw himself backwards against the building, using his body to add to the ladder’s height. Propelling himself with his hands, he moved inch by inch over to Ashe and Patnaud. Only by craning his neck in an almost impossible angle was he able to see what he was doing, and he had to rely upon O’Keith for guidance. Finally, with almost superhuman strength, he was able grasp Ashe under her arms, and hoist her over his head, and pass her down to O’Keith below.

Panicked, Patnaud jumped into Blumert’s arms before he was quite ready for her, and before O’Keith had returned from depositing Ashe below. She then promptly fainted, and suspended high in the air, Blumert held the woman over his shoulder in backbreaking strain until O’Keith could return and help him carry her down. All three reached safety, and Blumert himself collapsed the minute his feet hit the ground.

Fortunately, there were no casualties, and the buildings 30 other tenants escaped to safety through the aid of the police and firemen.

As American as baseball and cranberry pie (races)

With the Presidential election now behind us (and for those that are wondering, we will be fulfilling the election bet by carrying a reader across the Brooklyn Bridge in a wheelbarrow – date and time to be determined), we can now focus on Thanksgiving and its attendant culinary aspects. One of our favorite historical Thanksgiving traditions is the cranberry pie race.

Here’s how it works. Find a 12  or so young boys, who looked as though they could use a good  pastry. Line them up on a race track, and provide them with a large cranberry pie. Once the starting gun fires, each boy must finish his pie before running down the track, with the first, second, and third prize winners rewarded with a turkey, chicken, and a peck of cranberries, respectively.

Gamblers would, of course, bet on anything, but the cranberry pie races proved a difficult event to handicap. A portly little fellow might prove an excellent pie eater, but his ability to get down the track in a timely manner would be subject to doubt. A skinny young Cassius, complete with lean and hungry look, might seem fleet of foot, but his thin frame belies his ability to compete when it came to rapid eating. Cranberry pie races were seemingly fraught with wagering peril.

In  late November 1889, at Washington Park, the Brooklyn Base Ball Club (then known as the Bridegrooms, subsequently known as the Dodgers), sponsored a cranberry pie race which the wonderfully named Mortimorenci Judid won. The race was followed by a contest between the attaches and friends  of the Brooklyn Club, arranged by Charley Ebbett, later of Ebbett’s Field fame.

The teams were arranged as Bachelors and Benedicts, as befitted a team nicknamed the Bridegrooms, and the players were instructed to come in costume.[1] William Tate, played second base for the Benedicts dressed as Buffalo Bill, and was resented shortstop R. Caruthers, dressed as a sailor; Tate being a heavy gentleman couldn’t cover much ground, and Caruthers found himself guarding most of the middle infield. On the Bachelors’ side, Jimmy Murphy dressed as a schoolboy, gave up eight runs in nine innings, and despite driving in two runs, the Bachelors went down to defeat. The box score is below, and we’re not quite sure what intrigues us more; the fact that the entire game was played in 1 hour and 20 minutes, or Mr. J. Mapledoren’s ape costume.

[1] Benedicts referring to married men, specifically those who’d been newly married after a long bachelorhood, and refers to Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing. We’re duly impressed with ourselves for including two Shakespearean references in one post.

Ducking Stool – The Game

Our longtime readers may remember that we took a look at the Medieval device known as the ducking stool awhile back. Essentially, the ducking stool was used as a punishment for females convicted of gossiping, backbiting, and verbally haranguing their husbands. If you want to refresh your memory, the original post is here:

Fear Ye the Ducking Stool, Ye Common Scolds:

Thanks to our friends over at the Rechtsgeschiedenis Blog, we’ve learned that there is a ducking stool game, created by Britain’s National Archives. You can play it here:

Oh, and the Rechtsgeschiedenis Blog is here:


Take your organ, grinder, and grind some more for me

During the past few days, we here at Forgotten Stories have taken a dizzying array of subways to and from Manhattan as New York’s transportation system gradually puts itself back in order. Noticeably absent during these rather extended trips has been that typical habitué of the rails, the subway entertainer. Typically our commute is joined by someone who makes their daily bread singing, playing an instrument, or dancing within the confines of the subway car itself or in the station, but Hurricane Sandy seems to have driven them away, hopefully to someplace of safety.

Little do these subway performers know (and we do not trouble to tell them), that much of their modus vivendi is reminiscent of the organ grinder of over a century ago. In New York of the 1870s and 1880s, organ grinder was big business, and an 1889 newspaper report estimates some 500 worked in the City. To service them were two organ manufacturers, from whom the grinders rented the instruments at a rate of $4 to $5 per month. The organs themselves weighed some 60 pounds, and the grinders plied the streets of the metropolis, turning a hand crank, which rotated an interior cylinder, and the same tune repeated itself over and over again.

The grinders were typically Italians, and since organ grinding paid about $7 per week, typically poor after the rent for the organ and $8 per month for a room in a crowded tenement were subtracted. To these fixed costs, an organ grinder with an eye on upward mobility in grinder circles typically added a monkey, trained at one of New York’s four monkey trainers.  The cost of a trained monkey could range from $150 to $200. This was quite an investment for the grinder, but well worth it considering that the monkey typically attracted children (and their pennies) to an organ grinders performance.

In November of 1889, under pressure and probably a bit of financial stimulation from the Musicians Union, in which the organ grinders were unrepresented, Mayor Hugh J. Grant banned organ grinders from the streets of Manhattan. Although the grinders argued their case to the Mayor in person, and had the full support of the newspapers, the Mayor refused to relent, and the grinder disappeared from the City.

Far from ending on that particularly sad note, let’s finish off with an organ grinder cartoon. We laughed out loud at the gag about four minutes in (keep an eye out for Harpo too!). Enjoy!


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