Volume 18 • Issue 44 | March 17 - 23, 2006

Twice-recovered artifacts from Five Points on display

By Chad Smith

Marauders terrifying the innocent? Immigrant gangs roaming the streets? Burlesque dancers? Indeed, many of the historical accounts of the Five Points in Lower Manhattan have bordered on the sordid. But a new display of artifacts at 26 Federal Plaza, and the story those artifacts tell, paint a very different picture of an early 19th century Manhattan.

The artifacts are a part of a collection recovered in the early ’90s during the archaeological excavation prior to the construction of the Daniel Moynihan Courthouse. The 18 are all that remain of a collection that originally contained more than 850,000 objects, all stored at G.S.A.’s archeology lab in the basement of 6 W.T.C., which was destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001.

Named after the points created by the intersection of Park, Worth, and Baxter Sts., the Five Points served as a crossroads for immigrants looking to a new land for a better life. Although the area had been crowded and impoverished, and although rivalries among ethnic groups existed, the Five Points’ reputation as a hotbed for debauchery and violence — a reputation bolstered by the film, “Gangs of New York,” which was set in the neighborhood — are false, said Renee Miscione, spokesperson for the U.S. General Services Administration.

Miscione said that the 18 artifacts in the lobby, which include a perfume bottle, chinaware, smoking pipe pieces, and toy marbles, denote a quieter, more conventional life during the time.

“The urban myth was that this was a sinister place,” she said, “well, these artifacts just blew those myths away.”

For instance, Miscione argues, the glass perfume bottle proves that care was given to hygiene, and tea cups and china prove that immigrant homemakers yearned for a touch of gentility, despite their lack of money. Also, parents bought children toys, proving that they attempted to nurture, Miscione said. “These signs stand in direct contrast to the type of Five Points depicted in Martin Scorsese’s movie,” she said.

Though the collection is sparse, Miscione still urges people to the display, which runs the month of March. “This collection was just a fascinating find,” she said.

The free exhibit is on display at 26 Federal Plaza, Broadway and Worth St. from 8 a.m.– 4: 30 p.m.


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