“Weegee Covers Christmas in New York… In Pictures and Words”

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PM, December 26, 1940
Weegee Covers Christmas in New York… In Pictures and Words…

By Weegee
Early Christmas Eve I received a phone call [a funny thing to receive from a person who consistently wrote that he had no phone: “In my room, I would have the mail and telegrams slipped under my door. I had no phone; I’m allergic to them…” Weegee by Weegee, 1961, pp. 64-65] from Wesley Price, one of PM’s picture editors. Price told me he wanted a good holiday picture, something with plenty of OOMPH. Lots of Christmas spirit in it. in other words a masterpiece. Jokingly I replied you just couldn’t order a picture like that, like you would a box of cigars. It had to happen. However, I asked him if he had any suggestions. He suggested that I get the picture in for the first edition. [Slightly different environment than: “The upshot was that I had a roving assignment from PM for the next four-and-a-half years. I picked my own stories. When I found a good one, I brought t in. All they had to do was mail me my weekly check for seventy-five dollars… which they did.” Weegee by Weegee, 1961, p. 86]
I left police headquarters in my car at 2:30 Christmas morning. I turned the two radios on. One the regular broadcast receiver, to get some holiday music to put me in the mood; and the other radio, a police short wave receiver to get the police signals so I would know what was going on.
The first police call I picked up was for West and Bank Sts. When I got there I found a car with a Jersey license, turned on its side, with a cop on top of it. Nobody seemed to be hurt. Soon a towing wagon arrived to take the car away. I made a shot of it and was on my way.
Then I picked up six fire alarm signals. They were alll false. I didn’t think Santa did that.
Then I stopped at the All Night Mission at No. 8 Bowery. [Not the still extant Bowery Mission.] Every night in the year about 100 hopelessly beaten and homeless men sit on benches and sleep as best they can. [see below]
Except for a Christmas tree in front, everything was the same. The same despair and hopelessness. I tiptoed in at 4 in the morning, being careful not to disturb anyone. Everyone was asleep. The place was as usual playing to “Sitting up” only. The same electric sign was lit with the illuminated big letters, JESUS SEES, the only source of light in the place. I wondered if He approved…
On the way out, along a big stove near the door, I noticed a pair of stockings, turned inside out, hung to dry.
Next I picked up a police alarm for 102nd St. and Lexington Ave. When I got there I found a man had been stabbed to death and was lying on the corner. From the St. John’s Episcopal Church, [according to the Internet, there is no St. John’s Episcopal Church at 102nd St. and Lexington Ave. There is one in the Village, 224 Waverly Place…] on the opposite corner, came the sound of organ music and the singing of the Christmas worshipers. I made a shot of the scene and started back to police headquarters.
When I arrived at my home, in back of Police Headquarters, I found a package wrapped in fancy paper outside my door. It was a present from my Chinese laundry man, Willie Chu, of 95 Elizabeth St. It contained a pound of tea and a half pound of lichee nuts. I had been looking for the Christmas spirit all night long. And had found it, on my doorstep. Lichee NUTS to you, Santa Claus…

Coincidentally The New Yorker also stopped by the All Night Mission in 1940: ABSTRACT: Talk story about census enumeration of the derelicts in the Bowery. Since none of the homeless men know in the morning whether his address will be a flophouse, an allnight mission, or a doorway, the enumerators waited until evening to cover the Bowery. In each of the hotels – the Sunshine, Uncle Sam House, the Plaza, and the rest – were two enumerators, who got the statistics on each guest before he was allowed to register & go to his bed. At the All-Night Mission, 8 Bowery, we found 80-odd men quietly starting to spend the night sitting up. A single enumerator was taking down the information an old man was giving him. He had been born in N. Y. C. 67 years ago. No wife, no, children? no. He wasn’t looking for work. He was on relief. Home? Well, the mission…

weegee-12-26-1940-map
Weegee’s Christmas day journey, on a Google Map, might look like this.

A classic New York City Christmas story… published 28 years to the day, before the end…

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