25 Photos That Show How Much The Lower East Side Sucked

For those who miss Max Fish: it was way worse.

Jacob Riis was a journalist and reformer around the turn of the century in New York. He published a book of his photographs and descriptions of the harsh conditions of life in the Lower East Side tenements, How the Other Half Lives, in 1890.

Many of these cramped indoor spaces and dark alleys had never been captured on film, and allowed many people to see the homes of the mostly immigrant populations for the first time. Riis advocated for the city to improve the drinking water supply and other reforms to poor neighborhoods. There are several parks and buildings named after him across the city today.

These photos are from How the Other Half Lives, which is now in the public domain (the ebook version $0.99 if you want to check it out).

1. This is a cobbler on the Sabbath on Ludlow St. Look at this. Apart from that delicious looking challah bread, IT SUCKED.

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

2. Here are women living in a police house on 47th St. IT BEYOND SUCKED

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

3. This is a class in the condemned Essex Market School, where a gas stoved burned by day. IT SUCKED.

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

4. Women lodgers at the police station on Elizabeth Street. This SUCKED.

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

5. A weirdly hot peddler who sleeps in the cellar of 11 Ludlow St. This is like a hot guy who you discover has a really gross single bed. This is still happening on Ludlow St. It still sucks.

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

6. Here is a woman in her house on Hudson St. IT SUCKED.

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

7. This is the home of an Italian immigrant ragpicker. That was a real job: ragpicker. And you thought your unpaid internship sucked? THIS REALLY SUCKED YOU JUST PICK RAGS.

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

8. Mott Street Industrial School clearly SUCKED.

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

9. Look at these miserable guys sitting around. Now we have chairs. Back then, IT SUCKED AND YOU SAT ON THE FLOOR.

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

10. Some other crappy miserable school. It SUCKED.

11. Here’s “The Short Tail Gang” hanging out under the pier at Jackson Street. They just hung out with a bunch of trash and wore not very scary hats. AS A GANG, THEY SUCKED.

12. The Talmud School in Hester Street SUCKED.

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

13. Here is a reporters’ office at 301 Mulberry St. Look at this – no coffee, no snacks, no Wi-Fi. Horrible. IT SUCKED

14. More women lodgers at the police station. SUCKS.

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

15. A black-and-tan (meaning integrated) dive bar in “Little Africa.” Chilling on a giant barrell of whiskey looks pretty cool, but check out how miserable they all look. It SUCKED.

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

16. Sure, this LES apartment was $5/month and has a roof deck, but oh yeah YOU DON’T GET SHOES. IT SUCKED.

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

17. Remember when you could smoke in bars? Yeah, that was the real New York, man, when the city was real and dirty. Oh wait, you also had children working their fingers to the bone in a tobacco shop. IT SUCKED.

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

18. Here’s a cobbler who was living in a basement that got condemned by the sanitation dept. He’s now working out of the yard. His rent is $12/month but IT STILL SUCKS.

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

19. Kids just sleeping in doorways. SUCKS.

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

20. A “growler gang”. Just chilling on a pile of dirt because that was all there was to do. Because life SUCKED.

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

21. Baxter Street actually sucked MORE.

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

22. This photo is titled “Bandit’s roost” because bandits literally just roamed Mulberry St. How sucky is that?

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

23. I’m sure the Craigslist ad claimed there was in-building laundry.

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

24. This is a family of coal heavers. COAL HEAVERS!!

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

25. This photo is literally titled “Hell On Earth.” So next time you go to the LES on a Saturday night and think “this is hell on earth,” it actually COULD be worse.

Jacob Riis / Via Flickr: preusmuseum

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