NOTES - Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants - Robert Sullivan

Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants - Robert Sullivan (2005)



I learned about John James Audubon and his days in New York from two biographies, John James Audubon by Alexander Adams and Audubon by Alice Ford. According to Ford, when Audubon finished his second book, Viviparous Quadrapeds of North America, he took it to Congress, hoping the government would purchase it, but, as Ford writes, " [t]he more innocent members mistook the squirrels for rats …" I also read a collection of essays about Audubon, The Bicentennial of John James Audubon, published in 1985, and according to the essay entitled "The Dream" by Alton A. Lindsey, two hundred of Audubon's paintings were damaged by a family of Norway rats while they were being stored. When Audubon died, his wife sold his paintings, which were again being eaten by rats, just so that she would have money to live on. At first, she couldn't sell any of them. Then she sat down with officials of the New-York Historical Society and pointed out the importance each painting, one at a time; the society finally bought them. Audubon's grave is in Trinity Cemetery in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, which is on land that was once his. The cemetery is near the former site of Audubon's house, at about 155th Street and the Hudson River, and the site is one of those many places in the world where you can see the past without trying hard, even though there is no trace of the house, which, like Audubon, fell down and then was covered over by apartment buildings and then the edge of a viaduct. In 1923, according to newspaper reports, twelve families were living in squalor in the three-story house that had been Audubon's home—there was trash on the verandas, and where Audubon once had caged deer and other wild animals were pigs. The studio—according to a New York Times report on April 23, 1923, entitled HOUSE AUDUBON LIVED IN FAST FALLING INTO RUINS—was a home in itself: "Today, the room is the kitchen, bedroom and parlor of an aged old woman, who looks blankly at you, when you ask if you may see Audubon's studio." To get to the onetime site of Audubon's house, I took the Number 1 subway train to Washington Heights. (Malcolm X was killed near Audubon's old house at the Audubon Ballroom.) To see the rat holes, I used Nikon binoculars. To see in the dark, on my early wannabe-Audubon trips, I used night-vision gear manufactured by Night Owl Optics, a company based in Manhattan.


Naturally, I read every rat book I could get my hands on—and for a while I couldn't get out of a library without checking all their various wildlife encyclopedias for one more entry on rats—and they mostly say the same things. But chief among the books I referred to over and over while watching and reporting on rats was The Brown Rat by Graham Twigg, an exacting work written by a scientist for the benefit of the lay reader that is gloriously serene in its nonhysterical description of rats. The other book that I referred to most frequently was Rodent Control: A Practical Guide for Pest Management Professionals, Robert Corrigan's rodent control manual. This book is written specifically for people working in the field of pest control; it speaks of rat problems pro forma—and as such it is full of clear-cut rat habitat nuance. A good book about rats for the lay reader is More Cunning Than Man: A Social History of Rats and Men by Robert Hendrickson; I referred to it especially for insight into the role of rats in literature and music and rat lore in general. For instance, it describes rat tortures referred to by Freud in his famous analysis of the so-called Rat Man—for my own research, I didn't want to go there. The Rat: A Perverse Miscellany is a collection of rat-image and rat-related prose and poetry; it includes a picture of a Rat King, which is disgusting. The best book ever written about catching rats is Tales of a Rat-Hunting Man by D. Brian Plummer, who has been called "the most famous rat catcher in Britain," but I also found it helpful in understanding rat habits, in addition to the habits of rat catchers. Plummer writes, "Rat hunters are usually regarded as some kind of lunatic by the public at large, and, on reflection, the public at large is right."

As far as scientific articles written about rats go, I am indebted to William B. Jackson, a longtime professor at Bowling Green State University, who sent me numerous scientific articles, written by him and by others. Of articles written by Jackson himself, especially helpful were "Rodent Behavior," which was published in Cereal Food World, in 1980; "Food Habits of Baltimore, Maryland, Cats in Relation to Rat Populations," published in Journal of Mammology, in 1951; and "Norway Rat and Allies," published in Exotic Species, in 1982. Jackson's article "Rats—Friends or Foes?" published in Pest Control, in 1980, while less academic, is a good place to read about the American public's disdain for rats; Jackson cites, for example, an episode of The Tonight Show in which Johnny Carson displayed a clear plastic mousetrap with its own gas chamber. "When he attempted to demonstrate its utilitarian function," Jackson wrote, "the studio audience booed. Then he asked: 'How about rats?' The enthusiastic audience response was, 'Yeah! Yeah!'"

I spoke with James Childs early on in my alley studies and he pointed me to dozens of helpful articles, including "Seasonal and Habitat Differences in Growth Rates of Wild Rattus Norvegicus," which he cowrote with Gregory Glass and George Korch—the article refers to rats as a "cosmopolitan species," a great phrase. Childs, who studies reservoirs of animal diseases at the Centers for Disease Control, also once experimented with a method of calculating rat populations via rat bite data; he worked in New York City. In talking to Gregory Glass, I learned that another way to think about the diseases that rats carry is to think about the diseases that they carry that we don't even know to check for—rats as vectors of the unknown. Both Childs and Glass have spent time in the modern alleys of Baltimore trapping rats, using Tomahawk traps and peanut butter. Just in speaking briefly with Childs, I know he has great rat-trapping stories.

Various rat facts also came from columns in Pest Control Technology and its special sections on rats; I read Robert Corrigan's theory of why rats gnaw in "Rodents' Annoying Gnawing Habit," an article in Pest Control Technology in 1997.1 found the figure of fifteen thousand rats resulting from the one mating rat pair in a National Geographic article entitled "The Rat: Lapdog of the Devil" by Thomas Y. Canby, published in July 1977. (A rodent expert who was present for a photo shoot for National Geographic described how a photographer photographing rats under the bed of an Italian woman in Italy had a problem when the husband of the woman returned to the apartment and didn't believe that they were just photographing rats.) In Hans Zinsser's book Rats, Lice, and History, a classic 1935 investigation of the effects of disease in history, Zinsser gives as an example of the human's tremendous fertility rate the case of Samuel Wesley, a seventeenth-century Englishman. Wesley had fourteen children by Sukey, his first wife. He left her, reconciled with her, and sired five more children, the oldest of the five being John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. For information on the rat eradication project on New Zealand's Campbell Island, I referred to news reports from the BBC. Information about so-called fancy rats came from pet rat associations in the U.S. and Britain, including the American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association. A good Web site to find out about pet rats, if you are interested in that kind of thing, is rodent The first U.S. fancy rat club appeared in 1978. The recent appearance of monkeypox in the U.S. may have been initiated by a three-pound pet giant Gambian rat, which infected a prairie dog, a species also known to carry bubonic plague, while they were together in a pet shop.

In researching the story of the settlement of Rattus norvegicus in America, I read "The Introduction and Spread of House Rats in the United States," an article written by James Silver of the U.S. Biological Survey that appeared in February 1927 issue of the Journal of Mammalogy, a scientific journal from that period that is enjoyable to read because it combines personal observations ("One day I was in Mosquito Gulch, and at a miner's cabin, at 11,500 feet, was a bison skull," a report entitled "Altitude Limit of Bison" says) with mammalogist-oriented news reporting; article titles include "A Possible Albino Armadillo," "How Do Squirrels Find Buried Nuts," and "An Interesting Deer From Szechwan." I also read "Entrance and Migration of the Norway Rat into Montana," which was published in the Journal of Mammology, in 1947, by which time the spelling of mammalogy had changed to mammology; the article was written by Clarence Archer Tyrone Jr., who was at the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station in Bozeman. (A 1956 article in the same journal discusses Norway rats in Nome, Alaska; it indicates that Nome-based rats' legs are often frostbitten and that they seem to have more than the usual amount of rat hair, but that they also have fewer parasites than rats in the lower forty-eight states.) I learned that the Canadian province of Alberta considers itself rat-free via e-mail from officials in the Alberta agricultural ministry and, initially, from a publication of the Alberta department of agriculture, food, and rural development, entitled "The History of Rat Control in Alberta," which includes this statement: "Thus, the people of Alberta are extremely fortunate not to have rats." Alberta did have rats in its border areas for a brief period, and at that time, one Alberta mayor refused to believe it. He stated that he would eat any rats found in his town and only changed his mind when he was presented with a bushel full of Rattus norvegicus.


Dave Davis's team at Johns Hopkins University was known as the Rodent Ecology Project, and they worked out of the Department of Parasitology. "Studies on the Home Range in the Brown Rat"—probably my favorite Davis paper, due to all the drawings of rat trails in back alleys—was published in August 1948 in the Journal of Mammalogy and coauthored by John T. Emlen and Allen W. Stokes, two apparendy key members of the rodent ecology team. This paper contains a statement that caused me to seek out an alley to study rats, as opposed to just anywhere: "Although rats cross alleys, they seldom cross streets." Dave Davis wrote many other rat papers with John Emlen and Allen Stokes, including "Methods for Estimating Populations of Brown Rats in Urban Habitats," which was published in Ecology in 1949. A work that Davis wrote alone was "The Characteristics of Global Rat Populations," which appeared in the American Journal of Public Health, in February 1951. Davis himself debunked the "one rat per person" myth in "The Rat Population of Baltimore, 1949" and "The Rat Population of New York, 1949," both published in 1950 in the American Journal of Hygiene. (Jackson revisited Davis's revisiting of the one-for-one statistic in a 1992 article published in Pest Management, "How Many Rats Are There?") In these articles, Davis also showed that rats tended to be in areas where apartments rented for less. That is still the case today. In fact, if you look at a map of mouse and rat infestation in New York City, the highest areas of infestation roughly match up with the areas of greatest prevalence of poverty, not to mention disease and illegal drug use and all kinds of problems—rats are sometimes an indicator species for people who are having a tough time.

In reading about Davis's work at Johns Hopkins, I also read about the history of Johns Hopkins, the first independent, degree-granting institution for research and training in public health—and probably the first place to use rats extensively in public health experiments; Johns Hopkins School of Public Health—now renamed the Bloomberg School of Public Health, for the current mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, who is a major donor to the school—turns out to have been a natural habitat for rat research. Some of the first experiments on rats made at Johns Hopkins were done as a part of nutritional studies in the early 1900s, by Elmer V. McCollum. McCollum was the first celebrity nutritionist; he was referred to as Dr. Vitamin by Time. He made his first experiments with rats prior to arriving at Johns Hopkins, when he was at the University of Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, he kept his rat work secret because the Wisconsin state legislature would not support public expenditures on the room and board of rats, a pest to the Wisconsin farmer. Meanwhile, working with rats in a laboratory was considered crazy; McCollum had initially attempted to experiment on wild rats, but, in his words, "they proved too savage to maintain in the laboratory." According to Disease and Discovery: A History of the Johns Hopkins School for Hygiene and Public Health, 1916-193 9by Elizabeth Fee, McCollum proposed putting vitamins back in bleached flour, extolled the virtues of fruits and vegetables, and was an adviser to Clarence Birdseye, the frozen-food magnate. In a way, McCollum's work with rats helped spawn the modern women's magazine, or at least the modern women's magazine cover, which subsequently created the modern men's magazine cover; his research into early dietary supplements spawned such self help like articles as is YOUR BABY RUNNING THE RISK OF SCURVY? and ARE THERE SUCH THINGS AS NERVE FOODS? and MY HUSBAND SAYS I'M HARD TO LIVE WITH.

In studying the work of Dave Davis, I also spoke to several of Davis's former colleagues and students, including William Jackson, who lives in Bowling Green, after having retired from Bowling Green State; P. Quentin Tomich, a biologist in Hawaii; and Jan O. Murie, who is at the University of Alberta. Jackson mailed me a copy of Davis's unpublished paper "Agricultural Expansion and Intellectual Ferment," which included a forward by Davis's daughters describing him up early watching starlings. Bruce Colvin, a rat expert who is probably best known by the lay public as the man in charge of rodent control during the construction of Boston's underground highway, the so-called Big Dig, explained to me that toward the end of his career Davis became frustrated with civic rodent control efforts; Davis felt that true rat control required a political will that politicians were not always able to summon, or command. As a private rodent consultant, Colvin has, in a sense, taken up the baton from Davis in the area of governmental rodent control—Colvin speaks about rats to government officials, in the U.S. and abroad. (In advising the city of Washington, D.C, for example, he suggested that the rodent control program be moved from the department of sanitation to the department of health.) I attended a "Rat Summit" at Columbia University sponsored by New York City councilman Bill Perkins, who has worked hard on rat issues in New York—many people believe that many rat problems could be solved with the reintroduction of metal garbage cans, for instance, as opposed to easily rat-breached plastic bags, though landlords oppose this due to the weight of the garbage cans. Colvin used a slide to show where rats five in urban areas; in one slide a woman was eating lunch next to a series of rat burrows. "When you walk around the city, you will see it differently after you see this presentation," Colvin said. He also said, "New York is a great place. It's a big city. You have a lot of work to do but you can win. Thank you very much."


Around the time of my first trips to Edens Alley, I read about George Trumbull Ladd, the ancestor of George Ladd; I read of his career in the Encyclopaedia Britannica and in papers given to me by George Ladd. (In an essay I read, George Trumball Ladd described the human being as "an organism with a mind purposefully solving problems and adapting the self to its environment.") The descriptions of the old Theatre Alley and information about Melville and Whitman and Thoreau walking through Theatre Alley and its environs comes from an amazing pamphlet called "Four Literary-Historical Walks" by Elizabeth Kray and published by the Academy of American Poets in 1982. It includes maps and descriptions of particular addresses as they would have appeared in each author's time. Kray notes that Melville and Whitman probably stood at the same spot on the Battery to admire the view and that Poe and Whitman both had their skulls examined at Fowler's Phrenological Cabinet, "[b]ut otherwise the three writers had little or nothing to do with each other."

The history of Edens and Ryders Alleys are not, as I note, well documented, and while realizing that, I read the street-history work of Charles Hemstreet, who wrote Nooks and Corners of Old New York in 1899 and When Old New York Was Young in 1902. Both works have lots of things to say about streets besides Edens Alley, such as Saint John's Lane, a six-hundred-foot-long old street in the TriBeCa neighborhood that still exists and was named for the adjacent St. John's Church; of Saint John's Lane, Hemstreet says, "St. John's Lane is so completely forgotten that in years its name has not even crept into the police records." I found some small bits of information about Edens Alley in Stokes' Iconography, an incredible six-volume collection of news reports, maps, and minutes from city government meetings, not to mention photos and all other kinds of historical notes, that were combined into several volumes by I. N. Phelps Stokes, who is described by The Encyclopedia of New York as an architect, historian, philanthropist, and housing reformer. The will of Medcef Eden is in the abstracts of wills found in Collections of the New-York Historical Society for the Year 1906 (vol. 15, 1796-1800), page 128. I found information on Eden himself in "Romance of the Historic Eden Farm; Owned by Astor Family Since 1803: In his Will Medcef Eden Gives Picturesque Account of its Rural Charms in 1798—How Henry Astor Obtained His Portion When Title Was Finally Cleared After Long Litigation," an article in the Times, published on February 29,1920, and in "New York's New Up-town Centre," from the Times of September 21,1902. John Rider is mentioned in History of New York State: 1523-1927, volume 5, The English Period, by Dr. James Sullivan, a publication of the Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York.

I also consulted Old Streets, Roads, Lanes, Piers and Wharves of New York, Showing the Former and Present Names Together with a List of Alterations of Streets, Either by Extending, Widening, Narrowing, or Closing by John J. Post, which was compiled in 1882. I also read The Historical Atlas of New York City, by Eric Homberger, and I looked at scores of maps of the Edens Alley neighborhood in the Map Division of the New York Public Library, where the librarians were helpful in leading me through New York map history. Meanwhile, a fun Web site for investigating old alleys is; the site has a nice photograph of Ryders Alley while the apartment building at the very end was undergoing construction. (Also, see that Web site's pages on streets you can visit with their original paving stones.) In researching my rat alley's environs, I am indebted to the work of Charles Lawesson; Lawesson looked at every street in Manhattan and compared its place on every one of the city's old maps. He then collected the history of each street in several small but thick, unpublished, loose-leaf binders that he subsequendy donated to the New York Public Library's map division—an encyclopedic task. Although I have never met Lawesson, I have a hunch that he knows the streets of Manhattan better than anyone else in the city.

Information on the history of the tree of heaven came from The Urban Naturalist by Stephen Garber. I learned about Jens Jensen, the early proponent of native plants, in an article entitled "The Mania for Native Plants in Nazi Germany" by Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn in Concrete Jungle: A Pop Media Investigation of Death and Survival in Urban Ecosystems, edited by Mark Dion and Alexis Rockman, and also in an article entitled "Natives Revival—Is Native-Plant Gardening Linked to Fascism?" by Janet Marinelli in Plants & Gardens News,summer 2000.


The rat infestation in the Flatlands was reported in the Times on August 21, 1969, and the Brooklyn trolley infestation was reported in the Times on July 2, 1893, in a report entitled "Brooklyn's Plague of Rats: The Introduction of Trolley Cars Drives Them Into Dwelling Houses." In 1949, Mayor O'Dwyer said, "Something should be done," according to the Times of April 12, and according to the Times of June 28, 1950, O'Dwyer appointed Colonel William A. Hardenbergh as the sanitary engineer in charge of New York's rats. (Not too long after that, O'Dwyer was driven to Mexico instead of facing charges of corruption.) The Baruch Housing infestation was reported in all the city's newspapers in the summer of 2000. The Associated Press reported that antirat demonstrators at City Hall that summer chanted, "One rat, two rats, three rats, four … "The Rat Summit—the same one at which Bruce Colvin spoke—was held on November 29, 2000, at Columbia University; I sat in back, and a guy on his cell phone in front of me kept taking calls and saying, "Guess where I am? I'm at the Rat Summit!"

The Rikers Island rat story was reported on many occasions in the Times: "Rikers Island Rats Trap and Kill Dog" ran on August 29, 1915; "Rikers Island Rats Face Gas War Today" on September 10, 1930; "Shroeder to Direct Gas War on Rats Swimming from Rikers Island to Roslyn" on September 31, 1930; "City to Forbid Rat Shoot" on May 26,1931; "2,000 Rats Poisoned in Rikers Island War" on April 12,1933. The 1933 article began like this: "All was quiet yesterday along the waterfront of Rikers Island." On September 13, 1915, a letter to the editor discussed the use of snakes and bacteria. And I read about the closing of the dump on Rikers Island in "Garbage! The History and Politics of Trash in New York City," a pamphlet by Elizabeth Fee and Steven H. Corey prepared for an exhibit of the same name held in 1994 at the New York Public Library. "Garbage!" reports that after a failed attempt to deodorize the entire island with treated seawater, Pokers Island's rat problem subsided when the city closed the dump in 1933. The city closed it so that the ashes from the burning garbage piles would not blow onto people attending the World's Fair, in the Corona section of Queens, which, before the World's Fair, had also been a garbage dump. I read about the general history of Rikers Island in the Encyclopedia of New York and the WPA Guide to New York.

The death-oriented rat stories came from the Times as well. The story of the Irishman who committed suicide was published on September 25,1886, and the story of the man who ate rat poison ran on December 4,1899. The florist harpooned the policeman on July 31,1897, the story appearing in the next day's Times. The story of the exterminator named Walden accidentally fumigating an old woman to death appeared in the Times on October 1,1913. The Park Avenue rats story was covered extensively by the Times in 1969—they even ran photos of the rat burrows, the scene was so appalling. To its great credit, the Times noted that federal aid to rat-infested impoverished neighborhoods did not move as quickly as the city's exterminators moved against the Park Avenue rats. "The speed with which city officials have responded to news that a colony of rats infests a traffic island in a posh section of Park Avenue contrasts with the callous attitude exhibited not long ago by some members of Congress opposed to Federal aid for extermination programs," an editorial said. A Southern Democrat, the editorial noted, said, "Mr. Speaker, I think the rat smart thing for us to do is to vote down this bill rat now." The editorial went on," 'The rat smart thing,' and the only humane thing, to do is to escalate the battle against rats. Park Avenue's new terror has been a frightening way of life for too much of the city for too long."

The Daily News story headlined "U.S. Experts Wander at Red Show & Wonder at Nothing" ran on June 30,1959, and the death of the baby who was bitten by rats was covered by all the papers in 1959. The series of articles about the Daily News's own rat extermination campaign ran over the summer of 1960. I first read about the News 's so-called rat patrol on March 19, 2001, on the Daily News's daily history page; that article also mentioned that between January 1959 and June 1960 the number of rat bites in New York was twice as many as were reported in America's next ten largest cities combined. The letter signed "Precautious" describing rats in Morningside Park was published in the Times, and the doorman's description of "big five-pounders" was also in the Times, on March 24, 2002. The night watchman's description ran in the Times on February 5, 1889, and the man who said, "This is what's happening," and presented a rat to Mayor Lindsay was quoted by John Kinfer in a rat-related dispatch that ran in the Times on August 6, 1967.

The woman who was attacked by rats in Edens Alley was big news in the city at the time, naturally—the incident was described in the Times, the News, and the New York Post on the day after the attack occurred; the Times headline was "Scores of Rats Are Found at Site Where They Attacked a Woman." Pete Hamill, then a Post columnist, wrote a column about the attack—"In the City's Rat Race, Theirs Is the Marathon Event"—and it described the work of the laborers in the rat-infested pit, including Larry Adams, now the city's senior exterminator—it seems as if everyone writing anything about rats has for years written about Larry Adams. When I interviewed Adams, he told me that when rats started running in the hole, Hamill did not run away, like all the other reporters. (Articles in the papers during the same week mentioned that the human population of the city had declined by 4 percent to less than 7.2 million.) I read about the explosion of the bar on Ann Street in the papers on December 12, 1970; the Times headline: "60 Injured in Blast That Shatters Bar off City Hall Park." I talked to Randy Dupree, the city official in charge of rodent control at the time of the Ann Street infestation. I first read about Christy Rupp in a May 12,1979, Post article entitled "City Rodent Corps Blitzes Dirty Rats of Ann Street"; Rupp is an environmental sculptor, who still sells now, on her Web site, some of the same rat images that she had been putting up near Theatre Alley in 1979. Her Web site notes, "I started pasting these up during the 3-week garbage strike in May of 1979. Never intending to defend rats, I wanted to point out how we had created a habitat for them, and they would naturally occupy it. The city has it's own ecosystem with a delicate balance. Rats were very visible in those days where I lived in the Wall St. area. Especially around dusk when the human traffic would abruptly taper offleaving all the day's harvest for the first rats to discover. During this time I studied rat behavior and found them to be similar to people in many ways, not least of which was the ability to work together as a community, making them possibly better suited to living in NYC at times." A rat-related news item that I did not mention was the radical magazine RAT of the late sixties and early seventies. Francis X. Clines, a Times reporter, described RAT in a December 5, 1970, article as an underground newspaper that closely followed revolutionary movements.


I learned about cockroaches from The Urban Naturalist, and The Compleat Cockroach by David Gordon.


The quote from Emerson at the opening of the chapter concerning Jesse Gray is from his essay entitled "Representative Men." Some of the many articles I read in the Times while researching jesse Gray's life include "Harlem Slum Fighter," December 31,1963; "Rent Strike Due to Double in Size," February 1,1964; "Rent-Strike Chief and 10 Arrested," February 8, 1964 (by Homer Bigart); "Rent Strike March on Police Planned," March 22,1964; "Forged Petitions Are Laid to Gray," August 21,1965; "Jesse Gray Arrested in Rent Dispute," June 24, 1966; "Warrant Out for Jesse Gray," October 14, 1966; "Lindsay Says Gray Is Not an Extremist but Assails His Bias," October 8, 1969; "Jesse Gray's Son Charged with Possession of Cocaine," February 19,1970; "Gray Withdraws His Mayoral Bid," April 14,1973; "Jesse Gray Is Evicted for Not Paying Rent, "June 23, 1973; "Some Protesters Have 'Burned Out,' Others Say They're Regrouping," September 30, 1977. The headline for the brief, 1982 obituary of Jesse Gray read, "Jesse Gray, 64, Leader of Harlem Rent Strikes." Other Times headlines from the time of the rent strike include "Harlem Sit-in at City Hall Wins Promise of Heat for Tenements," "Rat Bites Son of Harlem Rent Striker," "200 Rubber Rats Sent to Governor," and "Governor Sends 'Rat' to Wagner: 'Reroutes' Symbol of Slum Protest to City Hall." The article about Jesse Gray's speech on the day before the riot is entitled " 'Guerrilla War' Urged in Harlem: Rent Strike Chief Calls for '100 Revolutionaries,' " by Junius Griffin, July 20, 1964. This was followed by "Gray Denies Role in Inciting Piots: But Court Continues Ban on Harlem Leader's Group," as reported by Peter Kihss on July 30, 1964, in which Gray disputed the Times article by Junius Griffin, saying the tape recording of Gray had been doctored. In "McKissick Criticizes Moderates and Voices Defense of Rioters," in the Times on August 1, 1967, Floyd McKissick, the executive director of the Congress of Racial Equality and the onetime leader of the Freedom Riders—the groups ofblacks and whites who rode through the South on buses fighting discrimination in public places—held a press conference in Harlem after riots and urged a defeat of a federal antiriot bill, support for a ten-billion-dollar increase in funds for the Office of Economic Opportunity, support of inner-city black-owned businesses and a black university that concentrated on "black culture and black history," and resumption of the urban rat control legislation in Congress. "History will likely record the explosions of this summer as the beginning of the black revolution. The criminal connotation of the term riots will be erased. They will be recognized for what they are—rebellions against oppression and exploitation," McKissick said. I found an article compiled from various wire services in the August 8,1967, issue of the Milwaukee Journal about the time Jesse Gray was arrested in Congress for carrying in rats. (An editorial in the Journal called the protest "trouble for trouble's sake.")

I also read coverage of Jesse Gray in the Amsterdam News. "Rent Strike in Harlem" appeared in Ebony in April 1964, and it features many pages of photos of Gray at work at community meetings, in jail, in run-down apartments. The photographer for the Ebony story, Don Charles, was arrested along with Gray while photographing a police raid on a rent striker. The New Yorker reported on the Harlem rent strike in "The Talk of the Town" section on January 25, 1964, and described Gray's office and his coworker Brown. I read the literature from Gray's campaign for Congress in the clip files of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research center of the New York Public Library at 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, at 135th Street in Harlem. There is also a recording of Jesse Gray's voice at the Schomburg Center; he is on an LP along with Martin Luther King. Pat Hollander's column "The Door's Open" in the Post, June 27, 1969, mentioned Jesse Gray's birthplace and his early union work. A paper prepared for the Housing '97 Conference at New York University School of Law Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy and the New York City Rent Guidelines Board on May 14,1997, entitled "Rent Deregulation in California and Massachusetts: Politics, Policy, and Impacts," by Peter Dreier, said that Jesse Gray's strike inspired tenants movements all over the U.S. and gave birth to the National Tenants' Organization, in 1969. Photos of the rent strikes and of the other tenant movements can be seen at the Web site, as can Joel Schwartz's essay "Tenant Power in the Liberal City, 1943-1971 (Tide I: Challenge and Response, 19491963)." I spoke on the telephone with Schwartz, who is a history professor at Montclair State University and the author of "The New York Approach: Robert Moses, Urban Liberals and Redevelopment of the Inner City," and he wondered if the so-called slum clearance plans of Robert Moses did not contribute to the rodent infestation problems in the neighborhoods, given that the construction made for more dirt and debris and, thus, rodent habitat. An article in the Village Voice—"By Any Means (Unnecessary)" by Peter Noel, September 1, 1999—said that Jesse Gray was just one of a long line of confrontational politicians that included Malcolm X. I think of him along the lines of Al Sharpton. That's who Randy Dupree, the former city rodent control official whom I mention above, compared him to anyway. When Dupree first moved to New York after serving in the army, he lived in a vermin-infested apartment building that went on a rent strike with the help of Jesse Gray. Dupree, who now lives on Strivers Row, one of the most beautiful streets in Harlem, described his early apartment in Harlem for me thusly: "There were cockroaches all over that place. I remember when people came to the house, I was always embarrassed because there were just cockroaches all over the place. Sometimes, we would cut off the lights and—well, the way that I maintained my sanity was to color them. So what we would do was we would sit there in the kitchen and every time we would see one, we would take a brush and some paint and Mop/We'd hit them with a color every time one came out. So then, after we painted a bunch of them we'd go shut off the lights and go into the next room and have a drink or something, and then we'd go back into the kitchen and turn on the lights and you'd see all these Technicolor roaches go running all over the place. Like I said, that's the way I maintained my sanity."


Marty Schein and Holmes Orgain's paper "A Preliminary Analysis of Garbage as Food for the Norway Rat" was published in 77ze American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (vol. 2) in 1953. Information on Schein's life came from The Mountaineer Spirit, a newsletter of West Virginia University, where Schein was professor emeritus of biology, and from the May 1999 issue of the newsletter of the Animal Behavior Society, which also described the rest of Martin Schein's career: he studied cattle, in addition to rats and turkeys, and was a highly regarded teacher who, after his retirement, went to Japan with his wife to teach English. "Marty was personally well organized," the newsletter said—he spent his last few years organizing the animal behavior archives at the Smithsonian. Before he died he asked that there be no memorial service, and he donated his body to a medical school. I often wonder if he went with Dave Davis to trap rats in Harlem when Davis was calculating the number of rats in New York City; he is one of those people whom I learned about only after they'd just recently died, leaving me to wish that I could have met them.


The quote describing immigrants as "bestial" comes from Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, a book that I referred to frequently. I first read about Kit Burns and his trial in "Henry Bergh, Kit Burns, and the Sportsmen of New York," an article by Martin and Herbert J. Kaufman, in the New York Folklore Quarterly (vol. 28 no. 1, March 1972). (Rat fighting's being replaced as an urban sport by baseball was mentioned in New York Folklore Quarterly.) It referred me in turn to numerous contemporary newspaper accounts of Burns, including the New York Daily Tribune of September 22, 1868; the New York World of November 27, 1866; the New York Evening Telegram of Oct 17, 1867; the New York Herald of December 24, 1870; and the New York Sun of February 24, 1871. Luc Sante's book Lowlife also mentions Burns and the rat pit. The letter from Kit Burns to Henry Bergh was in the New York Herald and dated September 6, 1868. I read about Henry Bergh in the April 1879 issue ofScribner's Monthly, in which appeared "Henry Bergh and His Work," an article by C. C. Buell. "Walking Around in South Street" by Ellen Fletcher, published by the South Street Seaport Museum in association with Leete's Island Books, talks about the history of Kit Burns's place, which is still there—up until two years ago there was a plaque. Another book that describes a rat fight—"The scene is disgusting beyond description"—is The Secrets of the Great City, published in 1868 and written by Edward Winslow Martin; its subtitle is A Work Descriptive of the Virtues and the Vices, the Mysteries, Miseries and Crimes of New York City, and it includes a five-panel drawing purporting to illustrate the home range and life expectancy of a young man who migrates to New York City in the 1860s. The captions for the illustrations are as follows: " 1. LEAVING HOME FOR NEW YORK 2. IN A FASHIONABLE SALOON AMONGST THE WAITER GIRLS—THE ROAD TO RUIN. 3. DRINKING WITH 'THE FANCY'— IN THE HANDS OF GAMBLERS. 4. MURDERED AND ROBBED BY HIS 'FANCY' COMPANIONS 5. HIS BODY FOUND BY THE HARBOR POLICE." The preface states, "Few living in the great city have any idea of the terrible romance and the hard reality of the fives of two thirds of the inhabitants."

I did not realize that the ASPCA still has officers in the field—they break up dog fights and investigate animal cruelty, among other things—until one day when I was out in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn, near a live poultry shop, the kind of place rats love, where I ran into an ASPCA officer: I recognized the Henry Bergh-designed shield on the side of his police-car-like vehicle. A nice guy, he knew all about Henry Bergh's battle with Kit Burns, just off the top of his head, and he referred me to the offices of the ASPCA in Manhattan, where I met the office's historian, who gave me a long list of additional newspaper references to stories about Bergh and Burns. While I was at the ASPCA, I learned that when the group had a problem with mice in their offices, it trapped and released them.


A blow-by-blow description of the sanitation strike, as seen from the union's side, is in a book published by the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association titled Nine Days That Shook New York City. It includes transcripts of television and radio interviews, documents from the city, state, and federal governments, and pictures of all the players and the situation. It was put together at the time by the public relations consultant working with the union, Howard J. Rubinstein. I also read numerous newspaper stories from the time, including "Explosive Bargainer," which was published in the Times on February 3, 1968, and a piece by A. H. Raskin, the great Times labor writer, entitled "Mayor and Governor: Knee-Deep in Trouble," published on February 11, 1968.1 read contemporary articles as well in the New York Post and the Daily News. John DeLury's obituary in the Times, by Dena Kleiman, was helpful, as was the obituary in the Post by Keith Moore, which noted that DeLury said, when he retired, that his greatest accomplishment was in raising the status of "garbagemen" to "sanitationmen." To learn about the fiscal crisis, I read The Streets Were Paved With Gold by Joe Klein and American Metropolis: A History of New York City by George J. Lankevich. I also read several interviews with Jack Bigel, a consultant to the union at the time; he died in November 2002, and one of his obituaries pointed out that he knew New York City's financial numbers inside and out just the way he knew its municipal and labor leaders. In Nine Days That Shook New York City, the U.S.A., to its credit, printed editorials for and against it—and mostly against. An editorial in the Times on May 11, 1976, said, "Who runs the city? It's apparently not the Mayor; is it Mr. DeLury? As regards unions, the latest rat-oriented development is the use of giant inflatable rats by unions in front of buildings that the union believes is using work or hiring rules that are against the best interest of the unions." I reported on this phenomenon in a "Talk of the Town" story, first published in The New Yorker on August 14, 2000, under the headline "Hot Air: The Man Behind the Rats":

In New York, there are regular rats and there are giant rats. The regular rats get most of the attention these days; Mayor Giuliani just resurrected his 1997 rat task force, and there is talk of a city rat czar. But it is the giant rats whose population has exploded most visibly in recent months. Since January, two dozen giant rats have arrived in New York. They were sent here from Chicago by one man, Mike O'Connor, the inventor of the giant rat and the president and founder of Big Sky Balloons and Searchlights. O'Connor designs and manufactures the inflatable nylon rats that turn up at the sites of labor actions all over town. "We're—what do you call it—infesting New York with rats," O'Connor said recendy, as he drove his pickup truck through the suburbs of Chicago. He had just finished putting up a giant blue King Kong in someone's backyard (in honor of a birthday) and was on his way to another town to install a giant stork (in honor of a birth). "We're doing a lot more storks lately," he said.

O'Connor, a hot-air balloonist from Billings, Montana, founded Big Sky Balloons twenty years ago, after he took an old hot-air balloon, sewed the bottom shut, attached it to a furnace blower, and pumped it full of air to create what he believes to be one of the first commercially produced super pressure balloons—that is, a balloon that stays put instead of rising and drifting away on the wind. Before long, O'Connor moved from balloon-shaped balloons into balloons shaped like just about anything, including bees, dragons, whales, raccoons, owls, witches, elephants, and, on behalf of the Chicago Bulls, giant bulls.

O'Connor designed his first giant rat in 1987, for a construction union in Chicago. "They wanted a really mean one," O'Connor recalled. "So I drew one up for them. I was the artist on that one. And I showed it to them, and they said, 'No., Not mean enough.' And I said, 'You mean like a really rabid rat?' So I made it really mean, and they saw it and said, 'That's it!'"

Since then, O'Connor has sold close to a hundred giant rats—seventy-five of them in New York. They come in three sizes: twelve, fifteen, and twenty-five feet. The twelve- and fifteen-footers are the most common, and they sell for $3,775 and $5,025, respectively. The twenty-five-footer goes for $7,225. The design of each rat is essentially the same. "We're getting into changing them a little," O'Connor said. "You know, with festering-looking nipples on their chests. We're getting into airbrushing."

Lately, amid the renewed vigor of the labor movement, sales of O'Connor's giant rats have taken off. "We sell four or five a week," he said. O'Connor sells his rats exclusively to labor unions, which use them as attention grabbers, though he once sold a giant cat to a bank that was the target of some demonstrators who had put up one of his rats. "It was actually a cougar, but it looked like a cat," O'Connor said. "It towered over the rat. It was pretty cool. But it was all done in good taste."

Recently, one of O'Connor's giant rats presided over a labor demonstration on Broadway near Columbus Circle. It stood behind police barricades, fifteen feet tall, its claws trembling in the summer breeze. One of the rat's caretakers was Mickey Whelan, a member of Local 608 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. "This is just standard. There's no big deal about this one," Whelan said. He had an Irish brogue and a handshake like a two-by-four. "It's not to say that the guys on this job are rat workers or anything. Far from it. It's to say that the workers here are getting exploited."

Just then, a skinny young man who looked to be in his late twenties stopped next to Whelan. He was carrying a large portfolio of artwork. "Nice rat!" he said.

Whelan, his arms folded across his chest, eyed the young man skeptically.

"Thanks," he said.

"Have you seen our rat?" the man asked.

"Your rat?" Whelan said.

"Yeah, our rat's over there." The young man pointed across town. "We're on strike over at the Museum of Modern Art."

"Oh, all right then," Whelan said.

"Yeah, we got a rat, too," the young man said again. He was pretty excited. He tried to high-five Whelan, but Whelan didn't notice. Instead, Whelan reached out to shake his hand.

"Well, good luck, then, brother," Whelan said.

New developments in the inflatable-rat area include the use of giant inflatable cats by landlords.

The bar in which I talked to John DeLury about his grandfather was Waterfront Ale House on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.


The first professional exterminators in America are mentioned in The Ratcatcher's Child, a history of the American pest control industry written in 1983 by Robert Snetsinger, a professor of entomology at Pennsylvania State University. Snetsinger recounts the transition of the title exterminator to pest control operator, when the exterminators association was under the leadership of William Buettner, who was considered an especially strong leader: through his efforts, exterminators were recognized as essential during wartime, and the only other workers in the service industry to gain such a status were undertakers. Frederick Wegner's career was described in the Times on September 3, 1893; August 8, 1893; and August 11, 1893. (Wegner also killed cats, prowling through the Central Park Zoo at night with a rifle. "In this way he managed to combine his business of catching rats with the pleasure of shooting cats," a report said.) Harry Jennings's obituary said, "Harry Jennings was the foe of all rats and vermin." Juan Colon is profiled in "The Lonely Soldier of Extermination" in the Times, August 13,1995.1 interviewed John Murphy, and his quote, which appears on the epigraph page, came from an interview in Pest Control that appeared on October 1, 2001, in an article entitled "Bootleggers & Rats: This Rat Call Took Inspection to a Whole Different Level." The race to out-alphabetize rival pest control businesses may have been begun by one of the oldest New York-area exterminators still in existence, Abelene Pest Control. According to Snetsinger, Abelene was begun in New York City in 1927 by Walter O. Blank, a German who exterminated the rats that overran the trenches during World War I. He had heard that abalone oil worked as an insecticide, but he preferred the name abelene and figured that a firm so named would rank first in alphabetical exterminators listings. The inter-pest-control-firm alphabetization competition still characterizes the industry as it appears in phone directories today. For example, New York City listings for pest control firms include AAA Absolute, AAA Advanced, AAA Affordable, followed closely by Attack, Ban-the-bug, Bug-Off, Bull Dog, and Bustabug Pest Control. (There are no pest control firms with names that begin with the letter Z, though a few begin with letters from the end of the alphabet, such as Swat, and Victory, and a firm called The End Is Near.)

Information on the beginning of the city's exterminating force came from health department literature, and the number of people living in housing projects came from the New York City Housing Authority. According to the authority, the number of people who live in housing projects in New York City exceeds the populations of such cities as Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Miami. In 2002, 51.6 percent of the residents of housing projects were listed as black; 43.5 percent as Hispanic or other ethnic group such as Asians or Native Americans; 4.9 percent as white.


I first read about Milwaukee's expertise in rat fighting in a federal report entitled "The Relationship of Solid Waste Storage Practices in the Inner City to the Incidence of Rat Infestations and Fires" by Robert M. Wolcott and Burnell W. Vincent, which was published by the Environmental Protection Agency in the mid-seventies. Dave Davis applauds Milwaukee's rodent control in an article in the Milwaukee Journal entitled "Rat Program of City Praised," which appeared on March 30, 1968. In 1971, Milwaukee's rat control program was rated among the best of eleven cities surveyed by the federal department of Health, Education, and Welfare, according to the Journal of September 11, 1971 (the early edition of the paper accidentally referred to the program praised as a rent control program). The quote on the monument at the Wisconsin Workers Memorial was originally taken from a book called The Rise of Labor and Wisconsin's Little New Deal. That Milwaukee lost some sixty thousand jobs in the recession between 1979 and 1982 came from the Encyclopaedia Britannica. When I met with Don Schaewe, he demonstrated an experimental rat-hole-activity monitoring technique—crumpling a ball of paper and stuffing it into a rat hole and returning the next day to see if the paper has been expelled. This technique was first suggested to Don Schaewe by Bobby Corrigan.

Articles I read describing the career ofjohn Norquist, Milwaukee's mayor at the time of my visit, include "Was It Harassment by Mayor or Sex Scandal?" by De Wayne Wickham in U.S.A. Today, on January 13, 2001, and "Scandals Begin to Tarnish Wisconsin's Political Luster" in The New York Times, on July 9, 2002. Norquist was quoted by the Associated Press on April 22,2002, as saying, "I made a mistake, as I have said before, and I accepted responsibility for that." The Associated Press also ran a story about Alderwoman Rosa Cameron pleading guilty to funneling federal grant money into her campaign on December 27, 2002. Other articles I read in the Journal about Milwaukee included "Krumbiegel Asks Help in Rat War," which appeared on November 11, 1966, and "City Begins Showing Rat Control Films," which ran on June 15, 1971. A photo of Ramon Hernandez dressed as a giant rat was in the Milwaukee Journal on June 18,1971. A study by a group called Erase Racism, reported in the Times on June 5, 2002, showed that Milwaukee was one of the most segregated cities in the United States; according to the study, 82 percent of the population of blacks would have to move to be evenly dispersed among the population. Detroit was at 85 percent, Chicago at 81 percent. The nation's one hundred largest metropolitan areas average 60 percent. The most segregated suburban areas in the country are New York City's suburbs on Long Island, at 74 percent. "African-Americans have faced isolation far more than any other group, especially on Long Island," said one of the consultants who analyzed the segregation patterns. "It's almost like a township in the South African sense," another expert said.

I read a story on Bobby Corrigan that appeared in a special issue of Pest Control Technology called "Leadership Winners 2000." I also read, as I mentioned above, his book, Rodent Control, and many of his columns and articles, and naturally I took copious notes during his lectures. Nearly all the pest control operators at the conference had nothing but praise for him or for some advice he had offered them at some point in their career. "Bobby's the greatest" (or slight variations of that phrase) was something I heard countless times at the Courtyard Marriott. I did not learn that Corrigan is a poet until after I left the conference. Here is a poem, used by permission of Corrigan, that was originally published by Pest Control Technology; it is entitled "5:41":

At 5:41

my yard

is a diffused wash of a yellow

that I've never seen here,

or anywhere, before.

But the sun

is not yet even visible.

How many other colors

and mystical rarities

of the dawn,

the deep night,

the busy mid day

do we sleep or work through?

Only once here,

then forever in our lives gone.

Concerning William Jackson's early cat-versus-rat work, which I mention in reference to Jackson's talk in Chicago, I would add that in 1986 Jamie Childs conducted research on city cats and rats and found that cats will catch only juvenile or subadult rats and do not complete their chases of adult rats. "Although adult cats and larger rats were frequently observed in close proximity, no aggressive behavior was directed by rats toward cats, and generally these species coexist peacefully in alleys," Childs observed. An article that inspired me to consider rat trapping in the first place is Child's "And the Cat Shall Lie Down With the Rat," published in Natural History in June 1991. William Jackson also investigated the rats in the nuclear tests and wrote many papers on their survival, as well as on rodenticide resistance. (The first case of resistance was reported in Scotland, in an article in Nature, on November 5,1960, by C. Mary Boyle: "A Case of Apparent Resistance ofRattus norvegicus Berkenhout to Anticoagulant Poisons.") In Chicago, I asked Jackson what had happened to the idea, first floated in the seventies, of introducing sterilized male rats into the rat population, in an attempt to bring down reproduction rates, and he said that strategy hadn't panned out. And in Chicago I also talked to Stephen Franz over lunch about his wild rat colony; the rats apparently lived in a building that is now an antique store on the outskirts of Albany.


The Black Death is, of course, the subject of so many books that, when I read about the disease, I felt a little like a flea on the back of the rat that is the study and history of the bubonic plague. My reading included Philip Ziegler's The Black Death, and a book that is composed of several lectures by David Herlihy, The Black Death and the Transformation of the West. Rosemary Horrox is the editor and translator of The Black Death, a vast collection of medieval texts that have to do with the plague; it makes for a kind of casual Black Death reading that can be perversely satisfying. I also read Plague! The Shocking Story of a Dread Disease in America Today by Charles T. Gregg, a book, published in 1978, that isn't as hyperbolic as it sounds. Many of the descriptions of natural phenomena that were thought to lead up to a plague epidemic came from The Black Death: A Chronicle of the Plague, compiled by Johannes Nohl from contemporary sources, translated by C. H. Clarke, Ph.D, with numerous illustrations (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1926). Articles I read included "How a Mysterious Disease Laid Low Europe's Masses" by C. L. Mee Jr., which was published in Smithsonian in February 1990; this article describes a flea as being the size of a letter 0. Fighting the Plague in Seventeenth-Century Italy is by Carlo M. Cipolla, who was an economic historian at the University of California, Berkeley, and at universities in Venice, Turin, and Pavia. I also read Miasmas and Disease by Cipolla and a treatise called The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity, which was a best-seller in Italy and eventually made into a play.

I talked to Bruce Colvin about rats' general disease-spreading capability. "Rats are very capable of elevating bacteria in our environment because they live in sewers and back alleys and search for food in the gutter," he said. I once interviewed Professor Glass, who is at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, for a magazine piece that I was writing about rats, and he notes, "They have an awful lot of stuff that they carry." Rats and plague are also covered in chapter 23 of the Textbook of Military Medicine: Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare, as published online by the Virtual Naval Hospital, at Anthony Burgess's analysis of the city as hero is in the introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of A Journal of the Plague Year.


I learned about Yersin's discovery of the plague bacillus from Gregg's book Plague! (Shibasaburo Kitasato, a Japanese microbiologist, identified the plague bacterium at the same time, though his findings have long been considered controversial.) I also read an article by Ludwik Gross entitled "How the Plague Bacillus and Its Transmission Through Fleas Were Discovered: Reminiscences from My Years at the Pasteur Institute in Paris," in the August 1995 Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (vol. 92, pp. 7609-11). Ludwik Gross worked at the Pasteur Institute in the forties and then moved to the United States, where he worked at the Bronx Veterans Administration Hospital until his death in 1999. He enjoyed writing to scientists and asking about their discoveries; he collected their responses. Another story Gross told about the plague involved Edmond Dujardin-Beaumetz, a friend of Yersin's who worked in the plague laboratory when Gross visited the Pasteur Institute as a young guest investigator. The story goes like this: "Dujardin-Beaumetz showed me a tube filled with live bacilli of plague. He told me that not only humans and rats but also monkeys, guinea pigs, mice, and many other species are susceptible to the plague bacillus. But not the chicken. Among the species resistant to the plague is the chicken. 'Look at this tube full of live bacilli of the plague,' said Dujardin-Beaumetz to me, taking out of a cabinet a small tube marked with a red pencil B.P. [which was short for bubonic plague]. 'This small tube contains sufficient quantity of live plague bacilli to infect and kill the population of an entire district of Paris,' he continued. 'We injected a similar quantity of five bacilli into the peritoneal cavity of a young chicken in our laboratory,' Dujardin-Beaumetz told me, 'and the chicken remained in good health. In fact, the next day she laid an egg. Surprisingly, the chicken got lost, presumably flew out of a small open window in the adjoining laboratory. We were frantic and looked for this animal all over, afraid that it may spread the deadly disease, but we could not find the chicken. Only several days later did we learn that the chicken was caught by a house superintendent, residing on a street adjoining the Institute, on rue Falguiere. Not realizing the chicken came from our laboratory, he roasted the chicken and consumed it, sharing the unexpected meal with his family. The plague bacilli were presumably destroyed by roasting the chicken. Nothing happened to them. They all remained alive and well.'"

I read about the plague in San Francisco in Plague! but, mostly, in two long articles: "The Black Death in Chinatown: Plague and Politics in San Francisco, 1900-1904" by Philip Kalilsch, in Arizona and the West, and " 'A Long Pull, a Strong Pull, and All Together': San Francisco and Bubonic Plague, 1907-1908" by Guenter B. Risse, in the Bulletin of Medical History, 1992 (vol. 66, pp. 260-86). Honolulu's burning is discussed in "Plague on Our Shores," a series by Burl Burlingame that appeared in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on January 25, 2000. I read The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco, by Marilyn Chase, after I wrote about San Francisco's plague. I wish I'd read it before, given its documentation of the differences between Blue and Kinyoun (and of the bitter and racist remarks Kinyoun made after he was kicked out of San Francisco); it's worth getting just for the pictures of the debonair Blue versus the arrogant and stodgy-looking Kinyoun, and the photos of the "rattery" where scientists looking for plague dissected rats. One historian has argued that San Francisco's first plague epidemic merely showed the world what was already there: "It revealed the best and the worst in people, and the lower and higher motives that businessmen, newspaper editors, politicians, and physicians normally repress. The result was a situation so tense that the true villains and real heroes quickly emerged from the placid fabric of routine city life."


When I went to the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, I read about the history of the neighborhood in The Neighborhoods of Brooklyn, a book edited by Kenneth Jackson and John B. Manbeck and published in 1998 by the Citizens Committee for New York City and Yale University Press. I also read an article in the Village Voice, "Close Up on Bushwick," December 27, 2002. Some of the plants were in various plant and nature guides, including Urban Wildlife by Sarah Landry in the Peterson First Guides series, 1994. The study to which Ann Li refers to when she is talking about rats sensing each other's stresses and fears is called "Regulation of Ovulation by Human Pheromones," written by Martha McClintock and Kathleen Stern for the March 12, 1998, issue of Nature. I learned about the times that plague came to New York City, or nearly came, in newspaper articles such as "Fear the Plague Is Here," which was in the Times on November 19, 1899. I also read about the Taylor in Gregg's book Plague! "The Plague Ship's Cargo," which ran on November 28, 1899, discusses the shipment of coffee that was on the Taylor. During the ship's quarantine, the coffee was apparendy allowed to sit on the piers and eventually continued on to the coffee merchant who sold some in New York and some in Chicago, which concerned people but ended up not being a problem, according to a May 22,1900, Times story, "The 'Plague' Coffee Has Been Consumed." Other plague reports include "Liner Held Back by Plague Order; Passengers from Havana May Be Detained for Seven Days," which was published on July 14, 1912, and describes fears over plague infection from a plague outbreak in Puerto Rico at the time—they were afraid to let sick passengers off the boat—and "Signs of Bubonic Plague in Three American Cities," which was in the Times on February 8, 1925. A engrossing account of bubonic plague in New York is included in Joseph Mitchell's story "The Rats on the Waterfront," one of the best pieces of rat reportage ever, which was published in The New Yorker as "Thirty-Two Rats from Casablanca," on April 29,1944, then included in the book The Bottom of the Harbor under the title "The Rats on the Waterfront." An article about the rat fighters in port—"Ship Rats a Minor Problem Here but Every Vessel Gets a Once-Over"—ran in the Times on Feb 3, 1952. More recently, the Daily News reported on the man who caught plague in the Southwest and nearly died of it while in New York in an article entitled "Plague Costs Man His Feet," January 17, 2003.

The information about General Ishii and Japan's biological weapons program came from a speech by Judith Miller, a Times reporter who has covered biological weapons extensively, that was given at the University of Virginia's Miller Center for Public Affairs and subsequently reprinted in a university publication, Miller Center (fall 2001), that was posted on-line, and from the Virtual Naval Hospital's Textbook of Military Medicine: Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare. Mostly, I consulted The Biology of Doom: The History of America's Secret Germ Warfare Project by Ed Regis, which I first saw mentioned in The New York Times Book Review of January 23, 2000, in an review by Timothy Naftali entitled "Death Factories: A History of Germ Warfare and America's Involvement in It." In addition to all kinds of germ warfare experiments conducted on an unwitting American public, The Biology of Doom describes the government agents carrying germ-infused lightbulbs and dropping them in between subway cars and, subsequently, measuring their effect with an air sampler that they called a Mighty Mite. Something that upset me almost as much as secret government agents releasing germs on subways is a secret agent bragging about lying to a man sitting next to him on the subway. "While riding train to 23rd Street Station, a man asked me where I got the nice little plastic case," an agent wrote. "I told him all the hardware stores over town had them. He is going to buy one."


In further investigating the history and former geography of Edens Alley, I used a number of different sources. At the city archives I looked at all the plans for adjustments and additions to all of the buildings on the alley; I saw John DeLury's signature, for instance, on the paperwork required to add on to the U.S.A.'s building in the sixties. In December 1933, the New York Herald Tribune ran a story entitled "Gold St., Refinery Center Here, Traces Name Not to the Metal but to Colonial Wheat Field." I found an undated clip with the blocky-type look of something from an old Times—I can't tell for certain—that is entitled "March on With Time: Signs of Last Century Still Persist In and Near the 'Swamp' Area Downtown." An amazing book about the area of lower Manhattan that once covered the swamp and is now public housing and office towers is The Destruction of Lower Manhattan by Danny Lyon. It includes photographs and journal entries from when the Swamp was being demolished (as well as photos of the portion of Washington Street that was demolished when the World Trade Center was constructed). "In 1967 over sixty acres of buildings of Lower Manhattan were demolished," Lyon writes. The possible translation of the word Manahachtanienk as "the island where all became intoxicated" comes from the book Native American Place Names in New York City by Robert Steven Grumet, published by the Museum of the City of New York in 1981.

Some books that were helpful in detailing the career of Isaac Sears and explaining his times include A Mighty Empire: The Origins of the American Revolution, by Marc Egnal; The Story of American Freedom by Eric Foner; Farewell to Old England: New York in Revolution by Ellen F. Rosebrook; Divided Loyalties: How the American Revolution Came to New York by Richard M. Ketchum; The American Revolution by Edward Countryman; and The Battle for New York: The City at the Heart of the American Revolution by Barnet Schecter. Pauline Maier's book The Old Revolutionaries: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams looks at the lives of several colonial Americans who were in the generation prior to the founding fathers, the group within which the first flames of revolution were born; it features a chapter on Sears. Maier's book From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776 explains the times from which Sears and his compatriots emerged. The only book ever written on Sears is a dissertation that was about to become a book but didn't and was written by Robert Christen in 1968; it is entitled "King Sears: Politician and Patriot in a Decade of Revolution." Christen himself was president of the New York City Board of Education from 1976 to 1977; he was a lifelong resident of the Bronx and died when he was 53. At Manhattan College, where he taught before working for the school board, he was a well-known anti-Vietnam War protester, a cofounder of Manhattan College's Peace Institute, and creator of "The Anatomy of Peace," which has been described as one of America's first courses in peace studies. I learned about tavern etiquette—pipe and mug sharing, the cutoff of drinks to people not with the majority's cause—while on a visit to Fraunces Tavern, a tavern left over from revolutionary New York, with my daughter and her first-grade class.

For detailing the Battle of Golden Hill, I relied greatly on Christen's work and also on Labor and the American Revolution by Philip Foner, which describes the lead-up to the Battle of Golden Hill. Foner points out that the Liberty Boys weren't always interested in all the lower classes' working conditions; they were clannish. "This movement will not be romanticized for in some communities, the Sons of Liberty were indifferent to the plight of other lower-class elements in the struggle," Foner wrote. Foner is the historian who said that you could write a book that just listed all the derogatory names people had come up with for the lower classes. Foner also wrote History of the Labor Movement in the United States, and in the section entitled "Labor and the American Revolution," he reports that there was a Sons of Liberty chapter in England ("You have only to preserve, and you will preserve your own liberties and England's too," they said) and in Ireland, where they assisted the Americans financially, recruited Irishmen to fight in George Washington's army, and drank toasts declaring, "Sons of Liberty throughout the world!" In Boston, workers who were members of the Sons of Liberty refused to work for people whom Paul Revere described as "enemies to this country," so that when the British wanted to build barracks for troops in Boston, they were forced to send for workers from out of town—i.e., from New York.

Christen refers to the Battle of Golden Hill as the first move toward concerted physical resistance in the American Revolution. You can see the broadside that Brutus wrote that so angered the British troops at the New-York Historical Society. What was called the Fly Market is where Louise Nevelson Plaza is today, on Broad Street. A helpful guide to an older New York is the Historical Guide to the City of New York, which was compiled by Frank Bergen Kelley "From Original Observations and Contributions Made by Members and Friends of The City History Club of New York" and published in 1909. That Sears and his friends expected to be paid came from The Old Revolutionaries. Maier wrote of "the luxury of unrewarded patriotic service" and added this: "Confident in the material implications of liberty, New Yorkers talked less of virtue than of interest, and turned naturally to the language of business in the business of revolution: 'Stocks have risen in favor of Liberty,' Alexander McDougall wrote Samuel Adams in June, 1774."

Fortunately, I'm not the only one who has noticed Golden Hill even after it has become barely noticeable. After I realized where it was, I went back to Hemstreet's 1899 book, Nooks and Corners of Old New York, and read this: "Golden Hill, celebrated since the time of the Dutch, is still to be seen on the high ground around Cliff and Gold Streets. Pearl Street near John shows a sweeping curve where it circles around the hill's base, and the same sort of curve is seen in Maiden Lane on the south and Fulton Street on the north." The details on the disappearance of the marker at the site of the Battle came from old newspapers. One said, "Many have been the complaints against New York because of its apathy in respect to its own history, rich as it is in interesting incidents." An article I cited about the disappearance of the plaque marking the site of the Battle of Golden Hill was "Historic Tablet on a Pilgrimage," from the Times on March 20, 1910. The article describing the last Liberty Pole replacement is from the Times on August 30,1952—"Saw Brings Down City Liberty Pole: Decayed Staff Latest to Fall in a Long Historic Line but New One Will Rise." The inscription on the plaque itself was printed in the Times on September 17, 1898, and I saw a photograph of it in the Fraunces Tavern museum. Robert Moses was the official responsible for cutting the Liberty Pole down. Near the site of the Liberty Pole, in today's City Hall Park, where I only recently saw a gathering of cabdrivers protesting tax license changes, there is a plaque in honor of Debs Myers; it is one of my favorite plaques in the city and says, "Do the right thing and nine times out often it turns out to be the right thing politically." I feel strongly that there should be a plaque marking Golden Hill. A plaque may not sound Hke much given the trend toward audiovisual and computer-driven historical tools that are "interactive," but a plaque marks a place, which is important. I read about the plaque that my father saw in an article entitled "Hercules Mulligan, Secret Agent," which ran in Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine in March 1971. The plaque on which my father read about Hercules Mulligan said, in part:




Until recently the plaque was in the vestibule of 160 Water Street. Now, I don't know where it has gone.