Fevernests and Firetraps

NYC walking tours tracing the Big Apple’s sickly past.


In the 19th century, New York City had the highest rates of disease and epidemics in the world: smallpox, typhoid, malaria, yellow fever, TB … Fevernests and Firetraps is a walking tour that explores the city’s historic struggle with disease, and the innovations that transformed the city’s health and landscape.

The slum is as old as civilization. -Jacob Riis

Fevernests and Firetraps

NYC walking tours tracing the Big Apple’s sickly past.

In the 19th century, New York City had the highest rates of disease and epidemics in the world: smallpox, typhoid, malaria, yellow fever, TB … Fevernests and Firetraps is a walking tour that explores the city’s historic struggle with disease, and the innovations that transformed the city’s health and landscape.

The slum is as old as civilization. -Jacob Riis

Fevernests and Firetraps

NYC walking tours tracing the Big Apple’s sickly past.


The slum is as old as civilization. -Jacob Riis

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SKIP TO TOURS

A Killer City.

In 1850, the average age of death in New York was 20 years and 8 months.

A port at what price?

Disease and Death.

In the 19th century, New York City claimed the title of the largest port city in the United States. The harbor was a source of great wealth for the rapidly expanding city and during this time, millions of tons of goods and people were brought to the shores of the Big Apple. Along with the ships came some less savory, unicellular cargo like cholera. Between 1832 and 1849, 5,000+ New Yorkers were killed by this infectious diarrheal disease.

Image: A scene at the Five Points in 1873, from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper; Courtesy of Library of Congress

Did you know? In 1866, the Board of Health ordered 160,000 tons of manure to be removed from lots in lower Manhattan.

Dying to enter?

Eat more apples.

In the 1840s epidemics were occurring so frequently that many city hospitals were forced to deny patients treatment due to extreme overcrowding. The problem? Lack of attention to the root causes of these epidemics–the crowded, unsanitary conditions of tenements and slums–meant that outbreaks of cholera, yellow fever, and typhoid were regular, yearly occurrences.

Images: Views of Bellevue Hospital, the first public hospital of the United States, founded in 1736: (left to right, from top) (1) the gates of Bellevue’s first ward; (2) an illustration of Bellevue’s morgue, the city’s first; (3) a Bellevue horse-drawn ambulance, 1895; (4) TB patients rest in the open air, 1908; (5) a surgical amphitheater, 1890. Images Courtesy of HHC NYC

Did you know? Due to the lack of windows and natural light in tenement buildings, residents were often forced to use candles during daylight hours in order to see.

Cozy 5th floor walk-up in the LES?

Renters take note!

Think we’re talking about a charming apartment next to your favorite coffee shop? Nope. Tenement buildings were designed to house the maximum number of people at the least possible cost. That meant no windows, no bathrooms, and no access to water. These unsanitary conditions sparked the use of the terms fever-nest and fire-trap because these buildings were, quite literally, dens of disease that were at constant risk of going up in flames.

Images & sub-Text: Jacob Riis; How the Other Half Lives. Courtesy of Library of Congress

Did you know? In 1880, New York City removed 15,000 dead horses from its streets.

What’s that smell?

You think the subway smells bad?

Well, if you were walking these streets a little more than a century ago, you’d probably be smelling some nasty s%$t. No really. In 1866, 6,418 privies (communal bathrooms often found behind tenement houses) had to be disinfected in an effort to improve the sanitary conditions of the growing metropolis. Add in the open sewers and the stench was worse than riding the L Train during summertime rush hour!

Image: The Close of a Career in New York, Byron (Firm); Children play in street drains beside the corpse of a horse; near the Five Points, circa 1905. Courtesy of Library of Congress

The Tours.

Ready to learn how New York evolved to combat disease?

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