Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Photography: New York City’s Chinatown, 1903

The Library of Congress has a large collection of Chinatown photographs. The following three photographs were printed in The Four-Track News, June 1903, “A Corner of China”. 

 [Oriental Restaurant]

[His name is Jim White; see sidebar]

The Four-Track News, June 1903

In the article, five photographs were copyrighted. These photographs were listed under the name of George H. Daniels, the publisher of Four-Track News, in the Catalogue of Title Entries of Books and Other Articles, March 19, 1903, Volume 37, Number 11. I do not believe Daniels was a photographer because profiles do not mention it. (See George Henry Daniels sidebar)

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Jim White has not been found in the United States Census or New York State Census. He was mentioned in periodicals from 1893 to 1903. 

New York Evening Telegram , December 13, 1893
page 2: Too Much for the Chinaman.
A Malay Sailor’s Strong Right Arm Proves a Valuable Weapon of Defence.
Recent changes in the management of the Chinese theatre in Doyer [sic] street have proven most distasteful to a large section of Chinatown, and tribal or family fights and wrangling have become of nightly occurrence. 

There was a slight, variation last night when the fight was between a Malay sailor and a Chinaman in front of the theatre. The Malay, who is a powerfuly [sic] built fellow, knocked out the Mongolian in the first round.

Then a score of other Chinamen fought the Malay, who, striking right and left, knocked down several of his antagonists, and finally succeeded in fighting his way out of the crowd. 

Detective Mitchell, of the Elizabeth street station, coming up at this juncture, arrested the Malay, who calls himself Jim White, and one of the Chinamen named Joe Quey. Justice Meade, in the Tombs Court to-day, remanded the prisoner.

New York Evening World, December 13, 1893
page 2: Row on the Chinese Rialto.
Joe Quey Gets a Black Eye in a Theatrical Dispute.

Jim White, a Siamese, who says he is a cook on the yacht Alsatia, owned by F. V. Clark, was held for examination in the Tombs Court to-day on the charge of assault.

There is said to be a factional fight waging in the Chinese quarters over the deposing of the leading man in the Doyer [sic] street theatre, to make room for a new man from San Francisco.

Detective Mitchell, of the Eldridge street squad, saw a fight in progress in front of the theatre last night, and found Joe Quey on the ground nursing a black eye. White was running away when Mitchell caught him. When searched at the station a long, keen dagger was found in a sheath attached to his waist. He denied having assaulted Quey.

New York Herald, December 13, 1893
page 6: Chinese Stage Rivals.
A merry little war is being waged in Chinatown. It originated in the Chinese theatre in Doyers street and has spread into a factional fight in which nearly all the children of the Flowery Kingdom have taken a hand.

For several weeks Chinatown had been looking forward to a new play, which it was announced would be far superior to any Chinese play ever seen here.

Nee Moy was imported from San Francisco to take the part of the leading man, and he trod the boards of the Doyers street house for the first time on Monday night.

The ex-leading man didn’t propose to quietly submit to the usurper. He placed himself in the hands of his friends and allowed them to make all the noise while he remained seemingly passive in the background. Tong Fong became, therefore, the nominal leader in the counter demonstration.

Made a Stupendous Noise.

The theatre was crowded on Monday night. Nee Moy came on in a gorgeous raiment which was almost dazzling. The Mongolians fairly held their breath. At least all of them did except Tong Fong and about twenty of his confederates stationed in various parts of the theatre. They possessed a superfluity of breath that was truly appalling. Even the kettles, whistles and gongs could not drown the dim that was raised by the cohorts of disorder. The players stopped short.

The noise simmered down, and taking a fresh old Nee Moy continued his part of the production. Everything ran smoothly for a time. The gongs gonged, whistles whistled, and some one in the orchestra with a rattle rattled. Nee Moy may have been rattled also, but no one knew it but himself. The play increased in interest and Tong Fong was quiet. At last the climax of the piece was reached.

Pandemonium Broke Loose.

The poor deceived maiden who had all along been led to believe that the gayly bedecked Nee Moy was in love with her awoke to a sense of his perfidy. She stood on tiptoe, raised her arm in an agony of despair and fell to the stage.

An attendant rushed in and placed a pillow under the maiden’s head, as the boards were very hard.

This was the signal for pandemonium to break loose again. Tong Fong slugged the man next to him. Several other Chinamen who sympathized with him did likewise. The maiden came to in a jiffy and made her escape from the scene.

Lee Tuov, one of the managers, tried to quell the disturbance and Tong Fong, immediately selecting him for a target proceeded to “do him up” in true highbinder style.

At this critical point the police interfered and the obstreperous Chinaman was hustled off to the Elizabeth street police station. He was taken before Justice Meade, at the Tombs Police Court yesterday, and was sent to the Island for three months.

Fought Outside

The management thought that all their difficulties were over now that Tong Fong, known as the “baddest Chinaman in Chinatown” was out of the way. But they reckoned without their host. Another row occurred in the theatre last night. It did not reach the magnitude of the other affair, but was serious enough to cause the arrest of two of the audience. There was no uproar in the theatre. The orchestra rendered its entrancing music without rivalry. Nee Moy strutted the boards as proudly as if he had something more than the fate of a maiden in his grasp. A Nanki Poo with a sore throat and a tenor voice did his turn while the beater of the kettles rested his arms. The maiden fainted without the least compunction of conscience on the part of the deceiver or the audience.

The row was confined to two men and they stepped outside to settle their difference. Jim White, of No. 5 Mott street, was a disciple of Tong Fong, and Joe Guey, of No. 16 Doyers street, thought the new leading man was the finest Chinese actor out of the asylum. Jim had the best of the argument, from a physical point of view, and promptly knocked Joe down. He then kicked him in the face and drew a dagger which was knocked out of his hands by a policeman of the Elizabeth street station before he had a chance to use it.

The two “scrappers” were taken to the police station and locked up. The dagger was found to have a razor’s edge and would have made short work of Joe Guey but for the prompt action of the policeman. The end is not yet.

New York Press, December 14, 1893
page 3: Back Up Their Star.
Change of Leading Heroes Resented and Free Fisticuffs Result, in Which Many Partisan Attendants Engage.

Chinatown is all agog over deposing the leading man in the Doyers Street Theater to make place for a new star from San Francisco. The professional jealousy is as strong among the histrionic Mongolians as among their white brethren. The new play has been running but three nights, and the first two performances ended in rows.

Jim White, a Siamese cook on the yacht Alsatia, was yesterday held in the Tombs for examination on a charge of assault against Joe Quey of Doyers street. The trouble occurred at Tuesday night’s performance. Quey was a follower of the new star, and freely expressed the opinion that his acting was the best that has yet been given at the theater. This was like waving a red rag at a bul. White, who was a partisan of the old star, promptly knocked Joe down. Detective Mitchell, who happened to be on hand, arrested White. He had a long dagger in a sheath attached to his waist.

This production of the play, which was heralded on playbills which looked like gigantic laundry checks, as the most magnificent ever given, occurred on Monday night and broke up in a row. When the new star, Nee Moy, of San Francisco, appeared on the boards for the first time pandemonium broke loose.

The friends of the leading man did not propose to submit tamely to the change. They raised a tremendous din that drowned the timid Chinese orchestra’s efforts, and Nee Moy’s lines could not be heard above the hubbub. The trouble went on at intervals until the show was over. The supporters of the deposed king of the stage precipitated a riot. Tong Fong, who led them, slugged the man next to him, and his friends did likewise. Finally one of the managers of the show tried to quiet the enraged audience, and Tong Fong thrashed him. Mr. Fong is now resting on Blackwell’s Island for his part in the disturbance.

New York Sun, December 4, 1896
page 5: Chinese Street Fight.
Rival Factions Fall to Blows Over a Robbery Trial.
... In court George Jung declared that Jim White, the Chinese whistler of 18 Mott street, and Chin Dong of 38 Mott street had assaulted him, and these two were also held in a like amount of bail.

New York Evening Telegram, January 26, 1897
page 8: Chinese Highwaymen.
Jim White Throws Pepper in Shing’s Eyes and Then His Pals Rob Him of $30.
Detectives O’Connor and Tierney, of the Centre Street Police Court squad, to-day arraigned in that court “Jim” White and Ah Wong, two Chinamen, on a charge of highway robbery, proferred [sic] by Ah Sing, a laundryman. 
“Jim” White was arrested a week ago in company with his common-law wife for beating a man who was the legal husband of the woman, and who had called at the house to get evidence for a divorce.

For this “Jim” White and the woman were sent to Blackwell’s Island. The theft with which he is charged occurred on Wednesday, the day on which he was released from prison.

Ah Shing says that he was in the dark hallway of No. 21 Pell street when “Jim” White, Ah Wong and another Chinaman named Ah Qoung [sic] attacked him.

He testified that “Jim” White threw pepper in his eyes and then struck him on the face, knocking him down. Ah Shing says White held him on the floor while the others robbed him of $30 and escaped. The prisoners were committed for trial.

New York Sun, February 18, 1897
page 3: Mott Street’s New Club.
Opened with 50,000 Firecrackers and a Gorgeous Joss.
The On Leong Tong Starts on the Road to Prosperity with Music and a Seventeen-Course Dinner—The First Incorporated Chinese Club East of San Francisco 
There were great times in Mott street last night. Firecrackers by the thousand made an intolerable racket, to be succeeded by the banging of cymbals and tom-toms and the plaintive squeakings of fiddles and the strumming of banjos. The On Leong Tong was having its housewarming, and all the riffraff of Chinatown gathered in front of the club house to help celebrate.

The On Leong Tong, which done into English means the Chinese Merchants’ Association, got a charter from Albany last week, and thus secured the honorable distinction of being the first incorporated Chinese club east of San Francisco. With a membership of over 200, composed of the leading Chinese merchants of New York, with three rooms on the third floor of the big tenement at 14 Mott street, it goes without saying that the President of the club, Tom Lee, who is Mayor of Chinatown and wears on his little finger a “sparkler” that would dazzle the young Spanish woman who dances in a shower of jewels, and Li Jung, the Vice-President commonly known as “Boston,” would start the club with appropriate ceremonies.

These took the shape of a reception and dinner, preceded by firecrackers and music. A permit had been secured from the police, and strung across the street from the roofs of two houses were 50,000 firecrackers, making a rope as big as a telegraph pole. Promptly at half past 6 Jim White, the Sergeant-at-Arms of the club (Jim is a wrestler of renown and well fitted for the duties of bouncers, stuck a lighted punk in the end of the string. For ten minutes there was a rattle-to-bang that could be heard a quarter of a mile away, and Mott street smelled like the Fourth of July. Hardly had the last cracker cracked when from up on the balcony of the club house came more noises, the banging of tom-toms and cymbals, thrice worse than any gong at a railway lunch station, and Mott street was quickly filled with a great crowd of men, women, and children who wanted to see what was going on. 

Then the guests began to strive. Up three flights of steep stairs they went and through the kitchen into the club room, where the members of the club were waiting to receive them. Most of the members were arrayed in gorgeous silks. There were Tom Lee, the President with his sparkler; “Boston,” the Vice-President; Lee Loy, the Secretary, and Joe Gong, the Treasurer; Jim White, the Sergeant-at-Arms and Moy Sing, the Captain. Then in line were Lee Sin, Hing Chung, Moy Gon, Hom Mun Chew, See Yee Mun, Lee Ny, Lee Quay, Mock Sing, Mock Bow, Lee Yow, Chin Pon, Li Yung, Lee Yick Shew, Quong Hop Sing, Le Hung Yan, and Lien Quon.

During the process of receiving the guests the tom-toms and cymbals kept bravely at work in order to conceal any deficiencies in the English of the hosts; then another orchestra began to work—a fiddle, Chinese banjo, and a flute. These made music until dinner was served. 

The club room of the On Leong Tong is not so gorgeous as some club rooms in this city, but there are some pretty fine things in it. There is a bronze joss, beautiful in its ugliness, and a wonderful bronze dragon and some wonderful Chinese pictures. Four large tables were set, one for the guests and three for the hosts. These were covered with sweetmeats, nuts, preserves, candied fruits, and the like.

In the opinion of Boston the dinner was a masterpiece, and all the rarest dainties of China found a place in it, There were seventeen courses. The first consisted of sweetmeats and rice wine. The wine was not lacking in any course. Then came a seaweed salad, a very rare and costly dainty that even inexperienced hands could handle well with the ivory chopsticks. Next came Yen Wah, a soup made of chicken and birds’ nests that wasn’t half so bad as it sounds. The succeeding courses were made up of chicken, mushrooms, and pigeons cooked and served up in a dozen or more ways, and the dinner wound up with tea, uncertain cakes, and a kind of a gruel made of corn starch, flavored with almond. After the dinner came more music and singing, and then one by one the hosts began to disappear and the subtle smell of the “black smoke” drifted into the room. The club had been fairly started on the road to prosperity.

New York Sun, September 3, 1901
page 3: Rival Outings in the Second.
... Among the well-known characters of the district aboard the steamer were “Well Well,” the Polo Grounds baseball man; Louis Swatter, who claims to be the champion rag-time dancer of the world; Tom Lee, the Chinese deputy sheriff; Jim White, the only Siamese American voter in the country: Greek Nicolson, who although of Greek extraction, has voted in the district for twenty-three years; Smoke, the Chinatown negro; Blind Billy, who has voted in the district for fifty years, and who had two men with him to lead him about; Domenico Deluce, who is known as the. Cuban Chinaman; Wideawake Collins, the spaghetti manufacturer and Corky Sullivan. Ham and Eggs were there, too. Ham is a bill collector and Eggs is a cigar manufacturer. ...

The Four-Track News, June 1903
page 307: A Corner of China.
[photograph caption]

… There is one subject which never disturbs Chinatown, and that is politics. The “town” claims one voter, Jim White, a vigorous up-to-date Chinaman with all the attributes of a full-fledged American, and he seems to answer the purpose of a general voting franchise since every Chinaman points to him with pride as the “oldest and only voter.” ...


December 1, 1842, Hampshire, Illinois – July 1, 1908, Signal Hill, New York

The Men of New York, Volume 2, George E. Matthews, & Co., 1898

Notable New Yorkers of 1896–1899, Bartlett & Company, 1899

Buffalo Courier (New York), October 16, 1900

The Argus (Albany, New York), March 29, 1903

Peekskill Blade (New York), May 4, 1907

New York Evening Post, July 1, 1908

Railroad Men, September 1908
The Harlem Line, George Henry Daniels, The Advertising “Prophet” of the New York Central 

(Next post on Wednesday: Oriental Restaurant, New York City)

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