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Newsies Carrying the Banner in Buffalo… Again!

Author: Heidi Bamford

When was the last time that you saw a paper boy standing at a street corner in Buffalo? At one point this was a common occurrence, but as times have changed, so has the way that news is disseminated. Now the long forgotten trade is making a comeback, and Buffalo is positioned (primetime) to deliver some darned interesting updates on a controversial matter that was swept under the carpet years ago.

Newsies the musical is coming to Shea’s Buffalo, and when the curtain goes up, theater goers may experience a little shiver of deja vu as ragged and raucous newsboys onstage reenact the antics, struggles, dreams and lives of actual newsboys, “de likes of” Vito Bucheto, Tony Gregoria and Rosario DeSalvio, who hawked the Buffalo News and Morning Express on street corners around Buffalo, New York – also eerily enough, in the vicinity of Shea’s theater, more than 100 years ago!

Although the lively and engaging music and dance of Newsies focuses on the story of the 1899 newsboy strike in New York City, tough times and hard lives of news boys – and news girls – was a fact of life throughout most cities in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Buffalo newsboys organized and carried out their own strike in 1890 against the major local papers whose publishers had, like Pulitzer and Hearst in New York City, tried to put the price of increasing profits onto the backs, literally, of their youngest and most underpaid workers.

In 1899, Joseph Pulitzer (New York World) and William Randolph Hearst (New York Journal), the two newspaper giant magnates in America decided to increase the cost of their papers as a way to increase revenues. The 10 cent increase (from 50 cents to 60 cents a paper) was the breaking point for the newsies, who had to buy the papers at cost and were not compensated for any unsold papers. The cost risk was now just too high for these very young workers, many of whom depended on the money for survival.

(from: Seize the Day)

Now is the time to seize the day

                  …Proud and defiant

                  We’ll slay the giant

                  Judgement day is here

                  Houston to Harlem, look what’s begun

                  One for all and all for one!

                  Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike!

In July 1899, “Kid Blink” (you meet him in the musical) calls on the newsies to take action by refusing to sell the Hearst or Pulitzer papers. In an article of The Sun (July 25, 1899, New York) it was reported:

The striking newsboys wound up a day of hard campaigning in their fight against the evening editions of the World and the Journal with a meeting last night in New Irving Hall, at Broome and Norfolk Streets, which was a remarkable gathering. A citizen unused to the ways of the New York newsboy might have thought it was a riot. Kid Blink and his Strike Committee had sent the call for the meeting, from the Bronx to the Battery, and from Brooklyn to Jersey City, and the arriving delegations choked Broome Street, from Essex to Norfolk and drove the neighborhood indoors. By 8 o’clock there were five thousand boys on the block. Two thousand came from Brooklyn led by Racetrack Higgins, and carrying with them a huge floral horseshoe, the gift of the Brooklyn Eagle. Jersey City sent a hundred boys, and the rest came mostly from Manhattan and the Bronx…

(from The World Will Know)

Pulitzer and Hearst, they think we’re nothing’.

                  Are we nothing’?

                  No!

The strike ended relatively quickly; although the newspaper prices were not reduced, the news boys were able to gain a concession of not having to pay for any papers not purchased. However, the living and working conditions for newsboys did not seem to improve: for a decade later, in 1910, we see through the camera lens of Lewis Wickes Hine, newsies in Buffalo, New York who are still poor and still working in the worst of conditions.

Newspaper publishing was but one trade of many that made use of unregulated child labor. Whether in agriculture or manufacturing or in “street trades” child labor was a standard fixture of the American economy at this time, known ironically as the “Gilded Age.“ Orphans as well as children from families living in extreme poverty were often forced to undertake physically punishing jobs in order to keep themselves and their families alive. What they endured and where and how they lived and worked was not really in the minds of those who lived along tree-lined Humboldt Parkway; or by the inhabitants of the mansions on Delaware, each opulent creation a unique signature of one of the top architects of the day; or by the pastoral estates of Riverside residents. But as a leading city during this time, the Buffalo area was a particular subject of interest for government agencies advocating “progressive” ideas of social reform and for private individuals testing new technologies in new ways; namely the technology of photography.

The National Child Labor Committee, created by the federal government in 1904 was charged with examining the living and working conditions of children in America, and in 1908, the NCLC hired a former teacher, turned social activist, Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940) to travel the country and document through his photographs and notes the lives of America’s working children. Hine worked for the NCLC from roughly 1908 through 1918 and it is estimated he traveled more than 50,000 miles a year during this period, visiting both the workplaces and homes of his subjects. Hine always kept a notebook with him and would attempt to get as much information about his subjects as he could – even risking his own personal safety from the wrath of companies that did not want him to portray their businesses in such a poor light.

Hine’s notes often record the places where the boys both lived and sold their papers. Many of Buffalo’s newsies resided on streets in the infamous area known as “Dante Place;” Fly Street, State Street, Prier Street and so on. This notoriously depraved area around the Erie Canal terminus is where one map from 1893 places over 100 saloons and 75 brothels in about a one-mile radius! Papers were commonly sold along many of Buffalo’s commercial streets including Washington, Pearl, Main and Court Streets; outdoors in all weather, hopping on and off street cars; oftentimes in saloons and often past 10pm; despite a 1903 New York law prohibiting boys under the age of 9 selling papers at all (many ranged in age from five years old to fifteen) and those under fourteen prohibited from selling after 10pm. The selling would often begin right after school (for those who did actually attend school) at 3pm and go through the late evening hours.

The Lewis Wickes Hine collection of photos remained in the custody of the NCLC (yes, it still exists, even today!) until the 5,100 photo prints and 355 glass plate negatives were donated to the Library of Congress by the NCLC Director in 1954, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the organization.

The “newsies” images, 861 prints in all, are found in Lot 7480; three albums in the “street trades” sub collection. Of those images, twenty document newsies in Buffalo; the rest in Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Albany, Schenectady and New York City. Since the images were created by a federal agency, they are in the public domain and can be reproduced freely. The NCLC collection also has images of children from the Buffalo area who lived in the city, but spent summers (and a good part of the school year) working in rural canneries and farms in places like Albion, Barker, Brant, North Collins, and Hamburg as agricultural laborers.

Hine’s collection of photos provide a remarkable and poignant portrait of Buffalo own newsies, leaving us with just enough information and imagery to conjure up on our own the squalid and most likely sad life stories “between the lines” in the expression of each of these boys, frozen in a single print.

(from Carrying the Banner)

Ain’t it a fine life

                  Carrying the banner through it all?

                  A mighty fine life

                  Carrying the banner tough and tall

                  When the bell rings

                  We goes where we wishes

                  We’s as free as fishes…

NCLC images found here

 

Newsies-Buffalo-NY-10Newsies starting to sell at 3:30 P.M. after school. Left to right: Tony Tomasula, 9 years, 11 Fly St.; Frank Thomas, 10 years, 26 State St.; Morris Bookbinder, 12 years, 212 Eagle St. Location: Buffalo, New York (State)
Contributor Names
Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer
Created / Published

Newsies-Buffalo-NY-16Italian newsies selling on Main St. at 10 P.M. Left to right: Lawrence Ferrer, 12 years old, 76 Front Ave.; Mathew Chinera, 11 years old, 58 E. Prier St.; Steve Cajuto, 11 years old, 218 7 th St.; Rosario De Salvio, 11 years old, 81 Trenton Street. Location: Buffalo, New York (State)
Contributor Names
Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer
Created / Published
1910 February.

Newsies-Buffalo-NY-8Group on Court St., selling around the “Shea” Theater, 8 P.M. Boy in center – Vito Bucheto, 10 years old, 162 Court St. Behind him to left: Tony Gregoria 12 years old, 69 Front St.,. Location: Buffalo, New York (State)
Contributor Names
Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer
Created / Published
1910 February.

Newsies-Buffalo-NY-15At one of the paper offices on Pearl St. at 3:30 P.M. Location: Buffalo, New York (State)
Contributor Names
Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer
Created / Published
1910 February.

Newsies-Buffalo-NY-18Donato Dandrea, hopping cars to sell papers at 10 A.M. during school hours. (See No. 1213.) Location: Buffalo, New York (State)
Contributor Names
Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer
Created / Published feb 1910

Newsies-Buffalo-NY-14Some of the youngest newsies hanging around the paper office after school. Location: Buffalo, New York (State)
Contributor Names
Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer
Created / Published
1910 February.

Newsies-Buffalo-NY-11Dates 1910
Title
Tony Tomarila [or Tomasula?], 11 Fly St., 8 years old. This newsie had just gotten his afternoon papers, after school, and was starting out on his rounds. I found him later in a saloon, at 10 P.M. Has no badge. Location: Buffalo, New York (State)
Contributor Names
Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer

Newsies-Buffalo-NY-6Left to right: Tony Tomasula, 9 years, 11 Fly St. Frank Thomas, 10 years, 26 State St. Location: Buffalo, New York (State)
Contributor Names
Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer
Created / Published
1910 February.

Newsies-Buffalo-NY-19Left: Tony Tomasula, (see 1200) Right: Morris Bookbinder, 12 years, 212 Eagle St.,. Location: Buffalo, New York (State)
Contributor Names
Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer
Created / Published
1910 February.

Newsies-Buffalo-NY-4Newsie selling in a saloon on Washington Street at 10P.M. Tony Tomasula, 11 Fly St, 9 years old. See 1200. Location: Buffalo, New York (State)
Contributor Names
Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer
Created / Published
1910 February.

Newsies-Buffalo-NY-7Group waiting for afternoon papers at the office in John’s Alley. Location: Buffalo, New York (State)
Contributor Names
Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer
Created / Published
1910 February.

Newsies-Buffalo-NY-12Ready for afternoon selling, group on Seneca St. 4 P.M. Location: Buffalo, New York (State)
Contributor Names
Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer
Created / Published
1910 February.

Newsies-Buffalo-NY-17Selling on Main Street in the afternoon hours. The majority sell no later than 7 P.M. Location: Buffalo, New York (State)
Contributor Names
Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer
Created / Published
1910 February.

PC-Bufalo-NYPaul Cory, 14 years old. Photo taken at 10 P.M. said he sometimes sold until midnight. Location: Buffalo, New York (State)
Contributor Names
Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer
Created / Published
1910 February.

Newsies-Buffalo-NY-9Newsies selling at 10 P.M. Boy on left: Joseph Mandi, 11 years old, 241, 7th St.; James Yarnell, 13 years old, 179 N. Division St. Location: Buffalo, New York (State)
Contributor Names
Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer
Created / Published

Newsies-Buffalo-NY-51910 February. Albert Krieger, 10 years old, 673 Fillmore St., going into saloon at 10 P.M. to sell papers. Location: Buffalo, New York (State)
Contributor Names
Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer
Created / Published
1910 February.

Newsies-Buffalo-NY-13Donato Dandrea, 231 W. Genesee St. Said he was 14 years old, but if so is undersized. Does not go to school. Sells all day and in the evening, on cars, at corner on Main St., (See Nos. 1215, and 1214.) Location: Buffalo, New York (State)
Contributor Names
Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer
Created / Published
1910 February.

Newsies-Buffalo-NY-2(On right) Donato Dandrea selling at 10 P.M. (See No. 1213.) (Left) John Rieiglian, 15 years old, 21 Evans St.,. Location: Buffalo, New York (State)
Contributor Names
Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer
Created / Published
1910 February.

so-BuffaloNewsies selling on Court St., 8 P.M. Left to right: Frank Spegeale, 13 years old, 72 Terrace St.; Dominick Gagliani, 10 years old, 230 Court St.; Charlie Decarlo, 8 years old; Anthony Decarlo (brother) 13 years old, 32 Front Ave.,. Location: Buffalo, New York (State)
Contributor Names
Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer
Created / Published
1910 February.

Map-Buffalo-NY-1-newsies

https://buffalostreets.wordpress.com/tag/fly-street/

This fascinating map graphically depicts the waterfront about 70 years after the opening of the Erie Canal. Within a 6-block area, the Canal District had 75 brothels, more than 120 saloons and 19 “free theatre saloons” [note the proximity of the “Free Kindergarten” at the corner of Erie and Seneca Streets]. The heyday of the Erie Canal was 1825-1865. The Canal connected Albany, on the Hudson River, with Buffalo on Lake Erie and had an immediate effect on travel, immigration, and commerce in New York State. Travel time between Buffalo and New York was reduced from six weeks to ten days, and transportation cost fell from $100 a ton to $10. Cities and towns flourished along the canal routes. Buffalo, being the point where the traffic of Lake Erie transferred to the Canal, grew faster than any other town on the route. Thanks to its strategic location, the frontier village grew tremendously, and by the end of the 19th century, Buffalo was the eighth largest city in the United States.

This area later became known as “Dante Place,” a tenement neighborhood for Italican and Sicilian immigrants. This map roughly corresponds to what is now the Marine Drive Apartment area. In 1938, Dante Place was demolished for Convention Hall [The Aud!]. Our map is the only copy in WorldCat, and as far as we know, the only copy held by a library.

Courtesy: Buffalo History Museum Research Library & Archives

 

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Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

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