Friday, July 13, 2012

Jerry McAuley's Helping Hands

Just south of Greeley Square Park on West 32nd Street, near Sixth Avenue and one of the neighborhood's drastically altered corners is the former location of one of Jerry McAuley's rescue missions. The Cremorne Mission was established in 1882 by Jerry McAuley his wife Maria.


McAuley was a river thief and alcoholic who, while serving time in Sing Sing, found religion and vowed to change his ways. After his release in 1864, a couple of relapses, and many personal struggles, he established one of the first rescue missions in the city that catered to adult men -- most at the time concentrated their efforts on women and children -- and called it The Helping Hand for Men. McAuley's mission was located on Water Street and by the 1880s, was a well-known and respected establishment. Around this time the McAuleys decided to expand their efforts into the much talked about Tenderloin district further uptown.

(In yet another weird connection between 34th Street and Bryant Park, William E. Dodge, who now presides over the Reading Room in BP, was also one of the Cremorne Mission's early financiers.)

McAuley chose the name and location for his new mission carefully, opening it next door to a gambling house that provided all types of vice at all hours with no cover charge. In hopes of luring wayward drunks toward their salvation McAuley cleverly gave his mission a very similar name to its neighbor. On plenty of occasions patrons of the Cremorne Gardens who were looking to revel in a scene like this. . .


. . . would accidently enter McAuley's Cremorne Mission, to find a revival sermon in progress similar to this:


Still, many of them stayed, listened to the sermons, changed their ways, and were grateful for the intervention. Some historians theorize that the combination of spirituality, confession, and peer pressure present in the Mission formed the basis for today's Alcoholics Anonymous programs (Sante).

The mission eventually moved to 42nd Street, and was later closed in 1972, though a small memorial to McAuley remains in Greeley Square today. Dedicated in 1913, and donated by the McAuley Committee of the New York City Rescue Mission, the Jerry McAuley Drinking Fountain was the second fountain made in his honor. For for several years, it lived just outside Greeley Square as a monument to McAuley's contribution to the neighborhood. Here is a somewhat awkwardly staged photo of it in use from the mid-1950s:


The fountain has been lovingly restored and is still in Greeley Square Park; look for it in the north end of the park next time you venture to Broadway Boulevard for a class or to scout other neighborhood architectural gems.

Another lasting monument to McAuley and his wife remains in the present-day New York City Rescue Mission. From Water Street to 32nd Street, and back downtown, the NYCRM and its many volunteers continue to help those in need get back on their feet.

**All images courtesy of the NYCRM. Thanks for your amazing work!

Works Cited:
Sante, Luc. Lowlife
Offord, Rev. R.M. Jerry McAuley: His Life and Work (google books link)
Bonner, Arthur. Jerry McAuley and His Mission

2 comments:

  1. Another book on the Water Street Mission is Samuel H. Hadley's Down in Water Street, which was written after McAuley's death by someone who had worked with him. My copy of the book has some handwritten reminiscences (which I've scanned) by a NYC firefighter who used to work in the neighborhood and often went to the mission, even though he was gainfully employed. You can see it at http://dreamersrise.blogspot.com/2009/08/madonna-of-cherry-hill.html.

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  2. This is great. Personal accounts like these are hard to come by, and that book sounds like an excellent find. Thanks very much for posting it on your blog, and for alerting me of its presence.

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