Sunday, 13 August 2017
1900: The Parrot Who Cried Murder in Madison Square Park
Posted: 15th February 2015 by The Hatching Cat in Birds and Pigeons, Parrot Stories Tags: 23rd Precinct, Madison Square Park, New York History, Tenderloin District 2 I once wrote about Sir Oliver, The Lambs’ mascot parrot. In 1900, Sir Oliver was a matinée idol who had a habit of going off script and speaking out of line on stage. When he wasn’t performing, he spent his time startling customers with his “fowl” language in a bird shop on Broadway. I have to wonder if Sir Oliver was the parrot who also starred in this drama… Madion Square Park Madison Square Park in 1893. NYPL digital collections. “Help! Help! Murder! Police!” The loud cries for help pierced the early morning stillness in Madison Square Park, nearly startling Policeman Betts out of his shoes as he walked his beat near the Hoffman House Hotel on Broadway and 25th Street. As a police officer with what was then called the 19th Police Precinct – otherwise known as the notorious Tenderloin District – Betts was exposed to a heavy dose of crime every day. This district, which covered roughly 23rd Street to 42nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, was the most crime-ridden section of the city — and possibly of the country. Hundreds of brothels, saloons, and gambling parlors lined the streets. Graft and corruption among the police was rampant. According to newspaper accounts from the early 1900s, Betts had assisted on dangerous door-busting raids of gambling and opium dens, made heroic rescues when the Hoffman House caught fire, and dealt with all kinds of vice on a daily basis. But he’d apparently never heard a screech for help quite like this. Captain Alexander Williams, Tenderloin District The Tenderloin area reportedly got its nickname when Alexander “Clubber” Williams took command of what was then the 29th Precinct in 1876. He cheerfully noted that he was looking forward to getting some “tenderloin” after working many years for “chuck steak” on the Lower East Side. Captain Williams retired in 1895 a millionaire. “They’re killing me! Quick, quick!” Hearing the second cry for help, Policeman Betts rapped his nightstick on the asphalt to signal the three other policemen patrolling the area that their immediate help was needed. From each corner of Madison Square Park, the four police officers made a systematic search toward the center of the park, gripping their nightsticks tightly in preparation for striking a few blows on the assailants. Unable to find any trace of a crime in progress, Policeman Betts and his fellow officers retreated to their posts. Tenderloin Station House The station house for the 29th Precinct at 137-139 West 30th Street was designed by NYPD sergeant and official architect Nathaniel D. Bush in 1869. By 1898, the station (now re-numbered the 19th Precinct) was overcrowded and had insufficient dormitory quarters for the patrolmen. In 1903, Commissioner William McAdoo seized upon the city-owned building next door to create more dormitory space. Today this is the site of a Courtyard Marriott. “Rubbah! Rubbah! Rubbah-neck!” The voice was still loud, but this time there was a mocking cadence. Betts rapped again to signal to the others that they were needed again. This time they converged to a bench where the voice seemed to be coming from. They look up and saw the culprit on the branches of a maple tree. “Polly wants a cracker!” It is not known from whose cage the green parrot escaped. But he (or she) remained in the park for a while, where he amused the children and kept the tramps awake at night with his loud outbursts. One homeless man said he heard a man on Fourth Avenue was willing to pay $2 for the bird, and so began a challenge to catch the parrot. Hoffman House Hotel Policeman Betts’ regular post was at the Hoffman House Hotel on Broadway at 25th Street, which was built in 1864 on land once occupied by the Isaac Varian farm and homestead. In its first year, the hotel served as headquarters for General Winfield Scott and Benjamin F. Butler, who had been sent to New York to help quell the draft riots. The Hoffman House and the adjoining Albermarle Hotel were demolished in 1915 to make way for a 16-story office building.