New York City wasn't the most fun place to be in during the late 1800s. There was a full-scale crackdown going on - mostly attempts at a partial prohibition of alcohol, in an attempt to 'save the ladies', since it was assumed that the undignified habit of women downing whiskey was sharply on the rise. Bars were shut down, taxes were applied, the price of alcohol spiked. Even worse, all 'brothels' were shut down, 'brothel' being defined as any place that a woman worked. So, with many people being out of work and being bereft of the usual methods of fun, they came up with other amusements.

First, it was just boxing. Middle of the street, bare knuckle, of course, and there was no limit on rounds, if rounds were even counted at all. Large crowds would block entire streets for these events. But this is just two guys beating each other up (albeit skillfully), and the fighters kept on experiencing 'early retirements', so some young innovators soon found another spectator sport.

For a short while, gun duels were popular in New York. Guns were readily available in these post-Civil War years, but there just weren't enough duelers to go around - their ranks kept on thinning and thinning...

So people tried animals. After all, there was no shortage of animals, were there? Cockfights. Dogfights. Bullfights, even! Bulls running around loose in New York! Some intrepid youngster captured a bear (common in the state of New York then) and brought it back to the city for spectacle. They'd muzzle and chain the bear to a stake, and then sic some hungry dogs on it. Bearbaiting, they called it.

But the law of diminishing returns kicked in, and the crowd wanted more, more, more... so they tried setting the bulls and the bears on each other. Didn't quite work - the two animals mostly lumbered around confused. They tried all sorts of other species after this.

The news spread of these fights, up to a guy named Henry Bergh. Bergh liked animals. He liked them so much he created a society to keep them safe. He called it the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ASPCA for short. Bergh got the authorities to shut down these fights in short order.

No word on how these New Yorkers amused themselves after this; I like to imagine that they lobbed explosive at one another, but that's probably a bit fanciful.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.