Then and Now: World Famous Heavyweight Boxer John L. Sullivan and Temperance Crusader Carrie Nation Clashed on 27th and Broadway

September 20, 2019

Now and Then is a series of articles appearing regularly on our blog to make tenants aware of the rich and colorful history that occurred on the streets of our Manhattan neighborhood. Once the center of New York social life and national political life, our neighborhood witnessed some of the epic events, firsts, building projects, and celebrities that signaled the beginning of U.S. power and influence.

Walking the busy streets of NoMad today, it is hard to imagine carriage traffic, people fighting in the middle of the street over whether or not alcohol should be consumed, and a 54-year-old lady soberly dressed in black threatening others with a hatchet. Life certainly has lost some of its excitement and charm, but a hundred years ago that was the street scene in our neighborhood.

John L. Sullivan, the bruiser boxing champ, owned a saloon at 1177 Broadway, between 27th and 28th Streets. He certainly was no friend of Carrie Nation, who was famous for breaking up liquor bottles and bar tops with her hatchet in her drive for prohibition. In fact, he had told the press that if Nation ever bothered to stop by his place, he would “thrust her into a sewer hole.”

Whenever Carrie Nation, “The Kansas Saloon Smasher,” came to New York, she always stayed at the Victoria Hotel on 27th and Broadway, a leading hotel at the time. One day on the way back from City Hall, she stopped at Sullivan’s tavern, a half block from her hotel.

It must have been quite a scene as she sat in her carriage in front of Sullivan’s saloon and sent her card up to him. After a while, she was told he was asleep and could not be bothered. She insisted that he see her because “I don’t allow any man to stick me in a sewer hole — not while I have my hatchet with me.” The messenger responded, “Better not ma’m. Mr. Sullivan is a very dangerous man when he’s ‘roused, ma’m.”

Unimpressed, Mrs. Nation replied, “Tell Mr. Sullivan, then, that when I next come to town I will visit him and see if he’ll stick me in a sewer hole. I’ll see him and there’ll be a reckonin’.” Next morning, The New York Times recorded the events. It seems that even the most ferocious fighter of the day was afraid of her and despite Sullivan’s sheepish attempts at bluster, he couldn’t live down the incident.