A Filthy History: When New Yorkers Lived Knee-Deep in Trash

An interview with Robin Nagle, the New York City Department of Sanitation’s Anthropologist in Residence who has spent most of her life studying trash:

“In its early days, the department didn’t really function at all. There are some photographs taken for Harper’s Weekly, before and after photos of street corners in New York in 1893 and then in 1895. And the before pictures are pretty astonishing, people were literally shin-high or knee-high in this muck that was a combination of street gunk, horse urine and manure, dead animals, food waste, and furniture crap.

“Put yourself back in the late 19th century and think about the material world that would have surrounded you in your home. When you threw something out, it wouldn’t go anywhere. It would be thrown in the street.”

Published: Jun 24, 2013
Length: 19 minutes (4,768 words)
Read the story