Having given the reader a description of the "The Wickedest Man in New York" we must now introduce him to Mr. Christopher Burns, or, as he is familiarly called, Kit Burns, the compeer of the noted John Allen. In walking through Water street, you will notice a plain brick building, rather neater in appearance than those surrounding it. The lower part is painted green, and there is a small gas lamp before the door. The number, 273, is very conspicuous, and you will also notice the words over the door, rather the worse for exposure to the weather, "Kit Burns," "Sportsman's Hall"
The ostensible business of Kit Burns, is that of a tavern keeper, and it is said that his house is well kept for one of its class. The bar does a thriving business, and is well stocked with the kind of liquor used in Water street.
Attached to the tavern, however, are the prinicpal attractions of the place to those who frequent it. These are the rat and dog pits.
THE RAT PIT.
Rats are plentiful along the East River, and Burns has no difficulty in procuring as many as he desires. These and his dogs furnish the entertainment, in which he delights. The principal room of the house is arranged as an amphitheatre. The seats are rough wooden benches, and in the centre is a ring or pit, enclosed by a circular wooden fence, several feet high. A number of rats are turned into this pit, and a dog of the best ferret stock is thrown in amongst them. The little creature at once falls to work to kill the rats, bets being made that she will destroy so many rats in a given time. The time is generally "made" by the little animal, who is well known to, and a great favorite with, the yelling blasphemous wretches who line the benches. The performance is greeted with shouts, oaths, and other frantic demonstrations of delight.
Some of the men will 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.
THE DOG FIGHTS.
Kit Burns is very proud of his dogs, and his cellar contains a collection of the fiercest and most frightfully hideous animals to be found in America. They are very docile with their owner, and seem really fond of him. They are well fed and carefully tended, for they are a source of great profit to their owner.
Notice is given that at such a time there will be a dog fight at "Sportsman's Hall," and when that time arrives the roughs and bullies of the neighborhood crowd the benches of the amphitheatre. A more brutal, villainous-looking set it would be hard to find. They are more inhuman in appearance than the dogs.
Two huge bull-dogs, whose keepers can hardly restrain them, are placed in the pit, and the keeper or backer of each dog crouches in his place, one on the right hand, the other on the left, and the dogs in the middle. At a given signal, the animals are released, and the next moment the combat begins. It is simply sickening. Most of our readers have witnessed a dog fight in the streets. Let them imagine the animals surrounded by a crowd of brutal wretches whose conduct stamps them as beneath, the struggling beasts, and they will have a fair idea of the scene at Kit Burns's......
Dog Fight at Kit Burns's
The Fourth Ward:
Life and Death in New York, 1860-1870
Primary Source Collection 6:
Descriptions of Fourth Ward Saloons
6.2: James Dabney McCabe, excerpt from, "The Wickedest Man in New York", chapter 36 of Secrets of the Great City (Philadelphia: Jones Brothers, 1868) 6.3: McCabe, excerpt from "Kit Burns's," chapter 44 in Ibid.
|Sportsman's Hall||"Sportsmen" were neither athletes nor hunters. The term was applied to men involved in the "sporting life" of drinking, gambling, whoring, and other disreputable activities. The building is still standing.||Click here to see a picture of the building today|