Skip to comments.Way Back Machine | Citizen Spies, 1901 Edition
Posted on 08/29/2010 9:58:44 AM PDT by Palter
Asking you to say something if you happen to see something is a modest request. But what might induce you to adopt a disguise and spy on your fellow citizens? How about a generous proliferation of vice, combined with a healthy dose of corrupt law enforcement, and some strong encouragement (including a small stipend) from morally minded civic leaders?
Out of just such fertile soil, a wide-ranging program of amateur surveillance flourished in early 20th century New York City. Ordinary folks settlement house workers, off-duty state Excise Department employees, dry-goods jobbers moonlighted as denizens of the demimonde, going undercover to document a profusion of turpitude in the bustling city.
In 1900, a volunteer group of business, religious and educational leaders formed the Committee of Fifteen (later the Committee of Fourteen after its founder died) to combat a surge in prostitution that coincided with an influx of poor.
Their initial strategy, appearing at police precincts in top hats and tails and dragging officers with them to break up gambling parlors and brothels, received mixed reviews. The New York Times derided them for trying to purify the city with eau de cologne and the New York World compared their behavior to the prying and snuffling of Carrie Nationism, a reference to the eras notorious temperance zealot.
When the committees lawyer, Col. Robert Grier Monroe, broke down the wrong door and stumbled onto the stage of the Volksgarten Music Hall, he and the two minimally-dressed female performers he collided with were unharmed, but it was just the kind of episode that Committee members feared was making a burlesque of their efforts.
They needed unfamiliar faces: people who could pass as frequenters of the seedy hotel bars and nightclubs whose clientele they wanted to spy on.
(Excerpt) Read more at cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com ...
Today I suppose we would call them “politicians”
Does the NYT mention Palin’s new neighbor?
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