On This Day in History, January 26: Land of Opportunity, For Beggars?

January 26, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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On Jan. 26, 1902, the Eagle ran a story about the “prosperity” of a new brand of beggar that was immigrating to New York from Europe. It was not the paper’s most compassionate article, and smacked of the nativism that sometimes infects our national politics. Below is an excerpt from the story and above are images that ran with it.

“Professional beggars have lately been so numerous and annoying in Greater New York that the police express the belief that the city has been made the victim of a wholesale immigration of professional mendicants from Europe. They are moved to this belief both by the nationality of the beggars and by the changed character of the begging methods. The regular native beggars, say the police, used to content themselves with looking miserable and asking for alms. The new importation follow the fashions of the countries from which they come and make a business of exciting pity by prominently displaying their deformities and afflictions. 


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“Some people have doubted the police story of the immigration of beggars, but investigation proves it to be true and unexaggerated. There has been — and continues to be — a steady influx of professional beggars from Europe, lured to these shores by the tales they have heard of the money to be made from ‘those stupid Americans.’ The tales told to them by their enthusiastic relatives in the United States have been to the effect that any lame, halt or blind person, or anyone who could simulate affliction could make more money in greater New York in a week than could be made in Europe in a year.


“And those tales are absolutely true. Professional mendicancy has actually become such a profitable occupation in Brooklyn and New York that these swindlers and loafers make more money than honest hardworking men. There is hardly a professional beggar in Brooklyn or Manhattan who is not considerably better off than 75 percent of the people who give alms. Nearly all of them have comfortable sums put away in banks…”        


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