COLONEL John Jacob Astor was a hero of the Titanic disaster, putting his pregnant wife into one lifeboat and helping a child into another - defying an officer to do so.
Those, at least, were some of the claims in the public prints of 1912. But in truth he was hardly the most egalitarian of men and one incident in 1898, fourteen years before Titanic, graphically demonstrates as much.
The millionaire was incensed when an Irish tramp wandered into his family mansion on Fifth Avenue and promptly went to bed in luxury sheets! Astor went to court to make sure the vagrant went to jail in a personal crusade that disquieted many. Yet short years later, the affronted millionaire would die with the commonest of steerage...
WAS IT TO ROB THE ASTORS? asked the New York Times in its first report on the discovery of a tramp in the home of the city's richest family on Fifth Avenue, Manhattan.
A tramp from the Bowery had been found locked in a room in the Astor Mansion, the paper disclosed on November 18, 1894.
"The police think he entered the house to steal, and feigned sleep when he feared discovery," added the last of a three-deck headline on the extraordinary incident.
It would be a prolonged and amazing episode. The following reports show how it progressed, with John Jacob Astor, the richest man in the world, launching a one-man vendetta against an impoverished knight of the road.'
Note: Early accounts misspelled the tramp's surname. It has been corrected in these extracts:
Miss Jennie, the laundress employed by Mrs William Astor in the mansion on the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and Thirty-fourth Street, went to her room on the top floor at 11 o'clock last night intending to retire.
She tried the door, which she had left unlocked a few hours before, and was surprised when she could not open it. She immediately went downstairs and informed the butler and the other men servants, declaring that she had heard someone snoring within.
Policeman Hardy was called, and Mrs William Astor and the other members if the household went to the room. They knocked repeatedly, and receiving no answer, burst open the door. In the bed, evidently sound asleep, was a man. On a chair alongside the bed were his hat, coat, vest, shirt and trousers.
The policeman aroused the sleeper and discovered that he was completely undressed. He was made to put on his clothes and was taken to West Thirtieth Street station. There he gave his name as John Garvey, thirty-one years old, who lives in the lodging house 96 Bowery.
In appearance he is a genuine tramp. He would not say how he had gained entrance to the house, and declared that he had made a mistake, thinking he was in his own bed.
At the Astor mansion last night it was said that the manner in which he got into the house was a mystery, as none of the doors or windows was found open.
The police believe that Garvey's object was robbery, that he entered the house through the stable which adjoins, and that it was his intention to secrete himself in a room he believed to be unoccupied until the family and servants had retired, and then to rob the house.
They say that the man, when he found that he was discovered, hurriedly undressed and feigned sleep. He is locked up as a suspicious person, and will be arraigned in Jefferson Market police court today.
Interior of the Astor's Fifth Avenue Home
WHY HE WENT INTO MRS ASTOR'S HOUSE
Garvey the Tramp tells Justice Voorhis and is Fined $5.
John Garvey, the tramp who was found asleep in the house of Mrs William Astor was arraigned before Justice Voorhis yesterday. No one appeared to make a complaint, so Justice Voorhis fined the man $5 for disorderly conduct.
Garvey said he was tired, and had gone into the house because he had found it open.
"I didn't want to take nothin'," he said.
"How do I know that?" asked Justice Voorhis.
"Say, you're dead slow. If I'd wanted anything, don't you s'pose I'd 'a' swiped it?"
Garvey did not have the money to pay his fine, so he went to jail.
THE ASTOR TRAMP IS FREE
His Fine Paid by a Man from
A Firm of Lawyers
ACTED WITH AN AIR OF SECRECY
John Jacob Astor Talks With the Wanderer - Thinks He Should Be More Severely Punished - May Cause His Arrest
John Garvey, the frowsy tramp who took a nap Saturday night in one of the fine beds in Mrs William Astor's mansion was released from prison last evening.
After Justice Hogan had announced that he expected to have additional charges preferred against Garvey this morning, a representative of the firm of Burnett, Stayton & Hogan went to the prison, paid Garvey's fine, which amounted to $5, and took him away. The lawyers absolutely refused to state their object in taking away the tramp, nor would they tell the name of the client in whose behalf they were acting. The greatest possible air of secrecy was maintained, and as soon as the man was at liberty he was hurried away.
There is considerable doubt as to what action Justice Hogan may take in the matter when it comes before him today. He may at once issue a warrant for Garvey's arrest on a charge of attempted burglary, or he may let the matter drop.
It is probable however that John Jacob Astor will insist on bringing a charge against Garvey and having him arrested.
MRS ASTOR sent her son and son-in-law, Orme Wilson, to the police court early in the day to find out something more about the uninvited lodger, and why he came to be let off so easily.
Young Mr [John Jacob] Astor was invited to a seat beside Judge Hogan, and he expressed to the Justice his concern over Garvey.
"I was out of town yesterday," he said, "and did not know of the affair until I read it in the newspapers. I came here expecting to appear against the fellow, but I find that he has already been disposed of. It does not seem to me right that a man can enter the house of a citizen and be fined only $5.
"My mother is naturally alarmed by her experience, and something must be done to punish Garvey, so that he will not attempt to repeat his offense. If he goes free, hundreds of people may imitate his example."
Justice Horgan suggested to Mr Astor to have a talk with Garvey. This was agreed, and Garvey was brought in. The tramp carried himself with a swaggering nonchalance.
"Oh! Think o' them beds," he said, tipping a wink at the officer who led him before Mr Astor. The latter surveyed the tramp with critical suspicion. Mr Garvey returned Mr Astor's critical gaze and sniffed as he thought once more of the airy springs and the downy pillows.
"How did you get in?" asked Mr Astor. "Walked in," said Mr Garvey, with a sleepy, serio-comic air.
"Were you asleep?" - "Cert."
"How came you to lock the door?" Mr Garvey studied the ceiling. He seemed to be wrestling with a mental problem of great profundity. "That's so, was it locked?" he inquired.
"Why didn't you wake when they broke down the door?"
"Eh? Did I break the door?" asked Garvey. Mr Astor had a talk with Agent Jerome of the Charity Organizaton Society. Mr Jerome tenderly inquired of Mr Garvey if he did not feel himself possessed of a desire to be taken care of.
"Not on your life," was Mr Garvey's didactic reply, made with haste and earnestness.
Mr Astor told Justice Hogan he believed that Garvey went into Mrs Astor's house to steal and had feigned sleep, hiding himself the best way he could. Mr Astor said he would not let the matter rest at present.
ASTOR TRAMP REARRESTED
John Garvey to be Arraigned on
a Charge of Burglary
John Garvey was rearrested yesterday afternoon on a warrant issued at the request of John Jacob Astor. The warrant was placed in the hands of Policeman Bernard Connolly. He at once went to 98 Bowery, learned that Garvey was in the lodging house, but could not get a sight of him. When Connolly inquired for Garvey the clerk would not say whether or not he was in the house. Connolly finally said: "Say, you are doing him out of a good thing."
"How is that?" asked the clerk.
"Why," said Connolly, with a bland smile, "I run a dime museum and I want to engage Garvey for the show. The man that slept in the Astor mansion will draw a great crowd."
"That is so," said the clerk, who at once went to the foot of the stairs and called out: "Say Johnnie, there's a fresh duck down here wants you for a freak." In a moment Garvey appeared and Connolly took him to a restaurant, gave him a good meal, and then told him he was under arrest.
"All right," said Garvey. "I guess it is all the same to me. I did not do anything, and I don't see what they are arresting me for. But I guess it is all right. That was a real meal, wasn't it?"
With the object of bringing forward sufficient testimony to cause the re-arrest of Garvey, Mr Astor brought forward his groom, who said that he had seen Garvey hanging around Mrs Astor's house for some time. Mr Astor then sent for his mother's laundress, whose bed Garvey had appropriated, and for the footman who had broken open the door. After their testimony was given the warrant was issued.
While seated in the judge's private room, Mr Astor, though not inclined to talk for publication, said he hoped Garvey would be apprehended, because if he was allowed to get off so easily there would be many similar attempts made.
"I am utterly at a loss to understand why anyone should want to pay the fellow's fine and let him get away," Mr Astor said, "and I think it was a most outrageous act. The idea of a man being able to enter a house at night and escape with the punishment of two days in prison! Such a state of things is not to be tolerated, and I do not propose that it shall be."
The question of who paid Garvey's fine still remains a mystery, but the motive for the act does not. Mr Burnett of the law firm of Burnett, Stayton & Hagen, through which the fine was paid, said to a reporter from the New York Times yesterday:
"The explanation is very simple. A well-known and influential citizen of New York, whose name I do not care to reveal, read an account in the evening papers about how a vagrant who had wandered into the Astor mansion had been sent to jail because he was not able to pay a $5 fine, and how Mr Astor was not satisfied with the punishment and wanted the case tried again.
"The gentleman immediately came to our firm and asked if anything could be done for the prisoner. We replied that he would be released when his fine was paid, whereupon we were instructed to procure the prisoner's release, and one of our clerks was sent up to pay the fine.
"The gentleman was perfectly disinterested, and had never seen or heard of the man. He simply acted as he did because he knew it was a direct violation of the law to retry a case after it had once been disposed of. He said further, which was true, that had a poor man asked for a second trial, he would have been laughed out of court.
"Personally our firm thinks the case was disposed of too hastily by Justice Voorhis, as there is a probability the man had some ulterior purpose in entering the house. But after a case is once disposed of, it may not be tried again, no matter who requests it."
GEORGE W. Turner, editor of a New York morning paper [The New York World - SM], who paid Garvey's fine, says in an editorial regarding the arrest:
"This is a persecution. It is a bitter and cruel attempt to punish a man, not that he has been guilty of trespass, but that he has been guilty of trespass on the Astor premises.
"The magnitude of the crime is not that he entered another man's house and occupied a bed, but that he had the audacity to enter Mrs Astor's house, open and unguarded though it was... The manifest discrimination here in the execution of the law is enough to make the gorge of an honest man rise with disgust.
"The machinery of the law that is now hounding Garvey at the instance of John Jacob Astor would not have entertained the complaint of a tenement house resident similarly aggrieved."
Garvey was re-arraigned on an affidavit charging him with forcing a door on the first floor of 350 Fifth Avenue and going to the fourth floor with the intention of stealing $5,000 worth of movable property.
It was reported that about a dozen lawyers visited Garvey while in custody "with the intention of persuading him to bring suit against the Astors for false arrest, but Garvey, by the advice of his lawyers, observed strict silence."
Garvey is an Irishman, about thirty years old, and has for some years been a clerk in various grocery stores.
IS ASTOR TRAMP CRAZY?
Garvey Said to Have Become
"Queer" After Shooting Himself
Tramp Garvey, Mrs Astor's uninvited guest of last Saturday night, is now said to be crazy.
Mr Stayton, his lawyer, said he has conclusive proof his client is not responsible for his actions. The principal proof comes from a man named Wolfe, who for some time employed Garvey in his shooting gallery on the Bowery.
"Until about one year ago," said Wolfe, "Garvey was all right. I employed him to load the rifles and hand them to customers and to collect the money. He generally handled about $50 a week and was perfectly honest.
"One day he accidentally shot himself. The ball entered his right arm and came out at the base of his brain. After that his head seemed to buzz, and he did many queer things. When customers came in, he would hide guns from them. There was a little engine which kept a fountain in play and several glass balls in the air, which Garvey forgot how to run."
Wolfe said that Garvey at this stage of his career acquired the curious habit of chewing tobacco along with his food. A policeman came in one day and told him [Wolfe] that Garvey had pinwheels in his head, and that if he didn't discharge him, he would shoot somebody.
After Garvey left the shooting gallery he went into a grocery at 95 Washington Street, Hoboken, from which place he was also discharged for incompetency. With the exception of a few weeks spent in a shooting gallery at Coney Island, Garvey has roamed about for several months in the role of a "Weary Raggles."
The case was adjourned until three o'clock in the afternoon. Kind friends provided a good meal for Raggles, as he is now popularly called, and he declared to the reporters that he was "in clover."
When Mr Stayton returned from lunch his client was seated in the reporters' room smoking a pipe. While waiting for Garvey to finish his smoke, Mr Stayton showed him his picture, cut from a paper. After looking at it long and earnestly, Garvey thought it 'purty good.'
The first witness called at the afternoon session was Jane Doherty, the laundress, a middle-aged woman, who was afraid to talk loud.
James B. Keedson, the watchman, was questioned very closely concerning the closing of the gates. His statements conflicted very considerably with those of the butler, the latter testifying that they were always closed, while Keedson said the contrary.
When Garvey was brought forward the judge questioned him minutely. He began with Garvey's departure from Ireland, and attempted to get his history up to that date.
"When you got off the steamer, where did you go?" asked the judge. "Up to see a friend on 14th street," was the reply.
"Who is your friend? What's his business?" - "I don't know. He's dead," was the answer, delivered in a drawling voice. This was about the tenor of all his answers.
During the proceedings Garvey gazed out the window with a vacant state and seemed to be utterly unconcerned.
After the examination was over, Mr Stayton asked for the prisoner's discharge, on the grounds that he had been already tried, sentenced and punished, and that there was absolutely no proof that the man had any intention of stealing. Mr Stayton cited a decision which held that a proceeding like the present one was a violation of the law.
Notwithstanding this, Justice Hogan held the prisoner in $1,000 bail to await the Grand Jury's action.
GARVEY, THE ASTOR TRAMP, IN COURT
Judge Fitzgerald Orders That
He Must Be Tried For Burglary
John Garvey, the man who slept in an Astor bed and who is now under an indictment for burglary... [continuing]
"This is simply an issue of law," said Judge Fitzgerald. "The prisoner was sentenced on a charge of disorderly conduct, but the indictment is for burglary in the second degree."
The judge made short work of the objection of a "former conviction."
"Breaking into a house is not disorderly conduct and cannot be construed as such.
"This indictment charges that the prisoner broke into the residence of Mrs Caroline Astor with intent to commit the crime of larceny."
THE ASTOR TRAMP GUILTY
He Unlawfully Entered the
Mansion in Fifth Avenue
MAY GO TO PRISON FOR ONE YEAR
Case Will be Appealed
John Garvey... was found guilty yesterday of "unlawfully entering the house of Mrs Caroline Astor."
He may be punished by imprisonment in the penitentiary for a term not exceeding one year or with a fine of $500, or both.
He had been asleep, he said, for four or five hours at 98 Bowery before he went up through Fourth Avenue to the Astor residence. Some workingmen told him to go in. He went in through the kitchen and saw the cook standing at the window he had just passed. He went on up to the top of the house because he did not notice any beds until he reached the door to the room of the laundress.
He remembered being in America about seven years, but could not tell when he left Ireland. Joseph McQuade, a turnkey in the Tombs, said that during the ten days Garvey was in custody he slept all the time, except when eating his meals or taking exercise. The case went to the jury late in the afternoon, and in thirty minutes a verdict was returned.
ONE YEAR IN PRISON FOR GARVEY
Astor tramp John Garvey ... was yesterday sentenced to one year in the penitentiary. But his lawyer says that this is by no means the end of the case. An appeal is to be taken to determine if Garvey can be twice punished for unlawfully entering.
Judge Fitzgerald, who sentenced Garvey, overruled Mr Stayton's objections that the verdict had been improperly found. Nine affidavits from jurymen who sat on the case saying that they had not considered the question of intent were also rejected by the Judge, who held that the jury had been very clearly instructed.
STAY FOR ASTOR TRAMP
Attorneys for John Garvey ...obtained from Justice Patterson of the Supreme Court a temporary stay of execution of sentence, pending an appeal to be taken in his case to the General Term of the Supreme Court. Amending the original verdict by Judge Fitzgerald "made of the half-demented wanderer a criminal," lawyers said.
GARVEY TO BE TRIED AGAIN
The Supreme Court declared a mistrial and ordered that the tramp be re-tried on a charge of trespass and intent to commit a burglary.
Before a new trial could begin however Garvey's third arraignment over the same incident the peregrinatory mendicant was helpfully found insane by the Court of General Session.
John Garvey was sent to the State Asylum for insane criminals at Matteawan, where he ended his days.
Exterior and Interior views of the Matteawan asylum
Patricia Winship, for sourcing aspects of newspaper coverage.
Mark Baber for the head-and-shoulders cartoon of Garvey.
Library of Congress.
Text and pictures © Senan Molony 2006
Related Biographies:John Jacob Astor