Moving Day

Changing apartments in New York City is an ordeal today, but it’s a great improvement over the old system, when every lease in the city expired at 9 a.m. on May 1 and thousands of people moved to new lodgings simultaneously. Davy Crockett witnessed the spectacle during a visit in 1834:

By the time we returned down Broadway, it seemed to me that the city was flying before some awful calamity. ‘Why,’ said I, ‘Colonel, what under heaven is the matter? Everyone appears to be pitching out their furniture, and packing it off.’ He laughed, and said this was the general ‘moving day.’ Such a sight nobody ever saw unless it was in this same city. It seemed a kind of frolic, as if they were changing houses just for fun. Every street was crowded with carts, drays, and people. So the world goes. It would take a good deal to get me out of my log-house; but here, I understand, many persons ‘move’ every year.

The tradition ran from colonial times until World War II, when a shortage of men finally ended it. That’s more than a century, an oddly long run for such an unpopular practice. “There may be some doubt as to whether landlords make out leases to suit the habits of the people, or whether the habits are a result of the leases,” journalist Luke Grant wrote in 1909, “but there is no doubt that the custom imposes hardships on every one concerned.”

Legal Notes

Phelim O’More was indicted at a county assize, in Ireland, for a rape.

His defence was ingenious. He gave in proof that he had a garden of beans, in which the prosecutrix committed, nightly, trespasses and depredations.

That having caught her stealing his beans, he declared, if she came again she might expect such consequences as she swore to on trial.

She came, and he kept his word.

The Court were of opinion, that the notice and the trespasses in the bean garden purged the act of felony, by showing consent a priori in the prosecutrix — and the culprit was acquitted.

Public Advertiser, Aug. 26, 1789

Crazy Like a Fox

When bootlegger George Remus shot his wife in Cincinnati’s Eden Park in 1927, he claimed temporary insanity and a jury found him not guilty.

When the prosecution then insisted he be committed to an institution, he declared he was sane — as they themselves had just argued. An appeals court set him free.

“The decision is so farcical, such a joke,” he said, “that it makes a sane person laugh.”

Sugar and Spice

Excerpts from the essays of 19th-century schoolboys, from Caroline Bigelow Le Row’s English as She Is Taught, 1887:

“Girls are very stuckup and dignefied in their maner and behaveyour. They think more of dress than anything and like to play with dowls and rags. They cry if they see a cow in afar distance and are afraid of guns. They stay at home all the time and go to Church every Sunday. They are al-ways sick. They are al-ways funy and making fun of boys hands and they say how dirty. They cant play marbels. I pity them poor things. They make fun of boys and then turn round and love them. I dont beleave they ever kiled a cat or any thing. They look out every nite and say oh ant the moon lovely. Thir is one thing I have not told and that is they always now their lessons bettern boys.”

“Timidity is a disease very prevelent among our American women. It is thought by them to be an ornament to their charms. How many young women faint by the sudden appearance of a rat from its hideing place! Oh! they do declare it’s impossible to live where these dreadful creatures make their homes they ask Ma cant she and wont she please to try to secure some remedy so they can be destroyed. You will see the young ladies leap up over stones and steps of great height so as to escape the barks of the dog, if they are walking with a friend of the male kind they will cling to the masculine arm and beseach him to walk so that she might loose sight of that horrible creature known as a dog.”

A King’s Homework

When Edward VI succeeded to the throne at age 9, William Thomas, clerk of the council, set him 85 questions on history and policy to answer at his leisure. “For though these be but questions, yet there is not so small an one among them, as will not administer matter of much discourse, worthy the argument and debating.” Samples:

  • Whether it is better for the commonwealth, that the power be in the nobility or in the people?
  • How easily a weak prince with good order may long be maintained, and how soon a mighty prince with little disorder may be destroyed?
  • What is the occasion of conspiracies?
  • Whether the people commonly desire the destruction of him that is in authority, and what moveth them so to do?
  • How flatterers are to be known and despised?
  • How dangerous it is to be author of a new matter?
  • Whether evil report lighteth not most commonly upon the reporter?
  • Whether a puissant prince ought to purchase amity with money, or with virtue and stoutness?
  • What is the cause of war?
  • Whether the country ought not always to be defended, the quarrel being right or wrong?
  • What danger it is to a prince, not to be revenged of an open injury?
  • Whether it be not necessary sometimes to feign folly?

Thomas closes by suggesting that Edward keep the questions to himself, since it is better “to keep the principal things of wisdom secret, till occasion require the utterance.”

Dead Letters

In a trance in 1926, medium Geraldine Cummins wrote out messages transmitted to her by a disembodied spirit who had died 1900 years earlier. Architect Frederick Bligh Bond transcribed, punctuated, and arranged the messages. When Bond published these in a newspaper, Cummins sued him. This raises an interesting legal question: Who holds the copyright?

In an extempore judgment, Justice J. Eve wrote that, although all parties agreed that “the true originator of all that is found in these documents is some being no longer inhabiting this world,” the medium’s “active cooperation” had helped to translate them into modern language. This might make her a joint author with the disembodied spirit, but “recognizing as I do that I have no jurisdiction extending to the sphere in which he moves,” he found that “authorship rests with this lady.”

Bond had claimed that the writing had no living author, that, in Eve’s words, “the authorship and copyright rest with some one already domiciled on the other side of the inevitable river.” But “That is a matter I must leave for solution by others more competent to decide it than I am. I can only look upon the matter as a terrestrial one, of the earth earthy, and I propose to deal with it on that footing. In my opinion the plaintiff has made out her case, and the copyright rests with her.”

Glorious Union

The high point of the Buckingham Palace switchboard operator’s day is when she puts the Queen through to the Queen Mother. ‘Your Majesty? Her Majesty, Your Majesty.’

— Jerrold M. Packard, The Queen & Her Court: A Guide to the British Monarchy Today, 1981


Early one morning [George III] met a boy in the stables at Windsor and said: ‘Well, boy! What do you do? What do they pay you?’

‘I help in the stable,’ said the boy, ‘but they only give me victuals and clothes.’

‘Be content,’ said George, ‘I have no more.’

— Beckles Willson, George III, 1907