‘Police Headquarters With Jacob Riis’

In His Own Words

Bandits and Bubbes: Riis’s famous 1888 picture displays the menace and domesticity of downtown New York at the end of the 19th century.
‘BANDIT’S ROOST,’ MUSEUM OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, JACOB. A RIIS COLLECTION
Bandits and Bubbes: Riis’s famous 1888 picture displays the menace and domesticity of downtown New York at the end of the 19th century.

By Abraham Cahan

Published May 19, 2010, issue of May 28, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Police Headquarters was then on Mulberry Street, near Houston. The daily newspapers had special offices there — in a few old buildings located opposite the police. The head reporter for the “Evening Sun” was at that time an immigrant from Denmark named Jacob Riis, known as a brilliant writer in the world of journalism. Several months before, [Lincoln] Steffens had been the police reporter for the “Evening Sun,” and he made friends with Riis then. So he gave me a letter for him. Riis was not a tall man and not a fat one either. He was in his 40s with a blond mustache and glasses. He spoke with a slight Danish accent. Steffens introduced me to him as a writer, the author of “Yekl” and as a man “with ideas.”

We spent about half an hour together, and we didn’t like each other. To me, Riis seemed like a person with outdated notions. At the same time, I felt that I made a bad impression on him with the opinions I expressed in the course of our conversation about literature and politics. I saw that he didn’t like my socialism much, and even less my low opinion of certain American writers. I felt that he considered me a pretentious young man. But he treated me courteously, and he showed me and explained everything related to my work.

He introduced me to the reporters from the other newspapers and to all the officials at Police Headquarters, from the Chief of Police to some of the clerks.

The duties of a police reporter had a two-fold character: One part of the work was connected to the police itself — to the “politics” among the officials, or related to them. If, for example, new people are appointed to important posts, if inspectors or captains are sent to new places, if somebody receives a promotion or a demotion, if somebody is punished for a mistake or a crime — the police reporter has to report all that in the newspaper. The second part of the work consists in paying attention to the police bulletins and reporting the various sensational events announced in them: a murder or another major crime, a suicide, a tragedy, a fire — the reporter has to make news from every unusual event in the life of New York that is reported in Police Headquarters. If necessary, he needs to zip down to the place where the event took place, examine, question, research and describe; or call the editorial office so that the city editor can send another person there. Chiefly, the second part of the work interested me, but the first part did also. Everything interested me.

Translated by Leizer Burko.






Find us on Facebook!
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.