Friday, November 20, 2009


"The Town is taken by its rats--ship-rats. And rats of the wharves. "
~Herman Melville

Saunter down Water Street near that movie set-like section underneath the Brooklyn Bridge and keep thine eyes peeled for a squat brick building that the postmen call #273. That is where the 'lore of a local man named Kit Burns took on its infamy.

Burns ran a well-kept tavern, buzzing with all manner of waterfront types of late 19th century New York. The bar men made good business but the real attraction was the fighting pits that earned the "Sportsman's Hall" its far-reaching reputation. Rats are plentiful along the East River so ol' Burns-ey had no difficulty procuring droves of the wily beasts while his dogs, terriers and ferret chasers, furnished their particular brand of entertainment.

A burlap sack of rats (10-stone) is emptied into the pit which is set up like an amphitheatre of sorts with vile men crowded in on the rough-hewn benches. The dog then goes to town making bloody work of as many rats as he can in the given "time," which is set by the screaming, stomping, blasphemously elated men who gamble upon this venture. Burns' dogs are the gladiators of the night and highly-regarded and even smothered with heroic affections in victory.

One eye witness recalls that some men would, "catch up the dog in their arms, and press it to their bosom in a frenzy of joy, or kiss it as if it were a human being, unmindful or careless of the fact that all this while the animal is smeared with the blood of its victims. The scene is disgusting beyond description."

Rat pits were actually a common attraction in old New York, a miniaturized gladiator affair with all the pomp and primal affections of the ancient Colosseum but none have gained such infamy as Kit Burns' Sporting Hall. We all would do well to remember the crass, ungodly beginnings of a town as tony and cosmopolitan as our modern day New York, Mulberry Bend is here to help.

Sorry for the absences friends, MB will be back up and running now so be sure to come back for more lurid tales...


No comments: