January 28 1906
Billy Stead’s views of New York.
The 1905-06 All Blacks spent five days in New York at the end of January 1906, which included a demonstration match against a made up team which included seven All Blacks. Billy Stead described it as “pioneer missionary work in the cause of rugby”.
Billy also set out his views and observations about New York and these follow.
“When I except its magnificent sky-scrapers, and its overhead street railway system, I was terribly disappointed with New York. Although English speaking it is hard to recognise anything else which designates the Britisher. Out of a population of 4,000,000, one million are Jews, 800,000 Germans, 600,000 Italians, a conglomeration of all the other races of aliens accounts for another million, leaving about 600,000 true Americans to complete the population of what Americans term “London’s rival.” Four of us took a walk along Broadway via Fourteenth street, then along Sixth Avenue (about 4½ miles), and counted ten names on the shops and stores which we thought might be English. Contrary to what you would think the best hated man in New York is an Englishman, and it made us ‘surge” to see the Union Jack at one of the theatres received in silence, while other European flags were vehemently applauded. Their national anthem is set to the same tune as God Save the King, with different words, and on hearing this at a theatre we all rose and took off our hats and were immediately “spotted” as English “guys.” You can imagine how this display of anti-British feeling surprised us, who in common with most of my readers, had an idea that the States were in very close kinship to our Mother Country. They speak of English conservatism in politics and business with a contemptuous patronising air.
Some of the New Yorkers’ customs and habits are very peculiar. The term “ladies” and “gentlemen” are unknown, and are only used when referring to anybody with a title. You should never give way to one of the gentler sex in a car, or indeed any other place, and the result is that the women can “push” for position as well as any man. In fact, you would think they had purposely done away with all those little courtesies and attentions which we have learned to bestow upon the gentler sex. You may try to get along the street without pushing or bumping into people, but you don’t get far until you find you’ve got to do it too, to get along at all. New York was a distinct disappointment to me. When I except their magnificent steel- framed skyscrapers, Brooklyn Bridge, their fine waterfront and the up-to- date overhead street car system, I think they must take a back seat to many cities of Europe. The main thoroughfares are execrable, while the filth of the others would not be tolerated in any New Zealand town. Shop people may block up the path with cases etc, wagons and carts may back right up to the door. You are continually bumping into temporary paper or trinket stalls squatted down where the traffic most congests. Very nearly all the business men employ a “tout” who hovers about to point out the various advantages of dealing with his man. New York is most assuredly the costliest place either to visit or live in. At the Astor House where we put up, our first meal averaged a dollar and a half (6s) per man, so that the manager had to try and come to some other arrangement. Everywhere the restaurant system, pay for what you have, is in vogue, and very seldom do you find a person sleeping and eating in the same hotel. Nearly all have a “pet” restaurant suiting both taste and pocket. I will just give you some idea of an ordinary menu for breakfast at our hotel: Oatmeal, 15 cents; fish, 40 cents; steak, 60 cents; or ham and eggs, 60 cents; tea, 10 cents; toast, 10 cents. Now if you leave out the fish (which you could easily add to the other without any discomfort) you find it costs you exactly 95c (4s) and then there is the inevitable nickel (2½d) as a “tip”. The final arrangement was that the manager allowed us two dollars per day for meals and we soon sought out places where we could live within our means. You see everywhere “cigar store” instead of tobacconist, as in our land, and I suppose 90 per cent of smokers have a preference for the cigar. At all events I know that our boys had great trouble in getting pipe or cigarette tobacco. Shops, hotels, all public offices, trams, trains and ferry boats are artificially heated (so much so that it was unbearable for us to be indoors) and yet everything they drink has ice in it. The weather was anything but cold and yet all were muffled up in top coats and it is hard to say whether the New Yorker’s sallow complexion is due to this hothouse”
From “Billy’s Trip Home” published 2005 by NZ Sports Hall of Fame p.68-70.