Summer in the city. The stifling heat, air thick with humidity and, yes, the smell of garbage roasting in the sun. These are all components of city life we learn to live with. But as the summer of 1914 approached the early residents of Dyckman Street found their very lives in peril as the empty lots surrounding newly constructed apartment buildings became a dumping ground for refuse collected in Manhattan and parts of the Bronx.
The situation would prove so dire that at least two children living in apartments in 109 Sherman Avenue contracted malaria from the swarms of mosquitoes that hovered around a pile of garbage so huge it almost defied imagination.
Let’s turn the dial on the time machine and visit the malodorous Dyckman Street of 1914 as described by the New York Herald:
New York Herald
June 28, 1914
LIVES IMPERILLED BY UPTOWN DUMP IGNORED BY CITY
Health Department Takes No Action on Repeated Complaints
EVERY BREEZE WAFTS POISONOUS FUMES
Wet Garbage, Mixed with Ashes, 240,000 Cubic Feet in All, Makes Plague Spot Near Broadway and Dyckman Street
Because the Board of Health of New York city apparently has paid no heed to the repeated complaints of residents in the vicinity of Broadway and Dyckman street they have appealed to the HERALD to aid them in preventing contractors employed by the Street Cleaning Department from using 40,000 square feet of land adjoining their homes as a dumping ground. The investigator sent out by the HERALD inspected the ground yesterday and found the complaints well grounded.
The territory used as the dump extends from Freeman avenue (sic: writer likely meant Seaman Avenue) to Post avenue to Dyckman street, has a frontage of nearly four hundred feet and is more than one hundred feet deep. On March 24 the nearby tenants noticed for the first time that the ash carts owned by the city were driven there and the contents strewn over the lots. At that time the bottom of the land used as a dumping ground was seven feet beneath the surface of the street level and contained a quantity of water left there by storms. Today the bottom of this land is approximately one foot beneath the street level, almost the same quantity of water is visible and the odor from the filth and rubbish dumped there is sickening.
Three months ago Dailey & Ivins, contractors, of No. 21 Park row, obtained permission from the Health Department to use those lots as a dumping ground, they having a contract with the city to dispose of all the “ashes and sweepings” collected in the Boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx. Since that time more than a hundred refuse wagons have daily dumped there ashes and rubbish of every description, of which more than two percent was wet garbage. During that time 240,000 cubic feet has been dumped and left to decompose.
Each breeze picks up the nauseating odor and wafts it into the ten six-story apartment houses recently erected on the adjoining property. After a storm the water absorbed by the paper and rubbish serves to hasten the decay and the stench becomes almost unbearable. It is also a breeding place for flies and mosquitoes. At No. 109 Sherman avenue, which borders on the dump, the windows must be kept closed when the wind blows from the east, north or south because of the odor. Despite screens flies and mosquitoes fill all the houses and make sleep well nigh impossible.
Estelle Ellenburg, three years old, daughter of Mrs. William Ellenburg, of No. 109 Sherman avenue, is under the care of a physician, who declares she is suffering from a severe attack of malaria as a result of the adjoining dump. Susan Pew, four years old, daughter of Marland E. Pew, another tenant of the same house, also has malaria.
Dr. T. Marsh Soper, of No. 110 West Thirty-fourth street, who has attended several persons in the district, said: —
“It is an outrage, I have complained to the Health Department and the Street Cleaning Department myself that conditions imperil life and health, but have been unable to make them take any cognizance.
Dr. Hazen Emerson, Deputy Commissioner of the Health Department, refused to discuss the matter, except to say that everything was being done to minimize the danger of contamination. He admitted receiving many complaints. When asked what really had been done he replied:–
“I have no time to discuss trivial matters with you. I must attend a committee meeting immediately.”