Friday, March 23, 2018

Postcard: Madison Square Garden #2 and wrestling over a word

A couple of years ago, I posted an old postcard featuring the second of the four Manhattan structures that have been called Madison Square Garden. Today's postcard features a different, and much greener, view of that second MSG, which was open from 1890 to 1925.

This undated postcard is copyrighted by American Studio and is labeled N.Y. 249. While much of the postmark is intact on the back of the card (shown below), I cannot make out the year it was mailed. Whatever the year, though, it was mailed in late August from New York City.

The following historical information about this iteration of Madison Square Garden is included on the back of the card:
Occupies an entire city block from Madison to Fourth Avenue, and 26th to 27th Street. It is the largest Amphitheatre in America. The interior being 300 by 200 feet, 80 feet high, with an arena 268x122 feet, seating capacity 12,000. The tower is 341 feet high. Statue of Diana is 13 feet high. Erected in 1890 at a cost of $3,000,000.
The $3 million pricetag would equate to about $83 million today, which seems like a huge bargain, given the location and size of the structure.

This postcard was mailed to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and the message on the back is fairly easy to decipher with the exception of one word. And that one word is crucial. Here's the note, followed by my transcription. You might want to make your own conclusions about the note before reading mine.

I am going over to Brooklyn. it is 2 o'clock a.m.
[???] in this Joint are no good.
So, that [???] is the elephant in the room. Four parties, myself included, took a stab at it and compared it to all the other words and letters on the back of the postcard. The chief possibility, we think, would clearly turn the final sentence into an ugly ethnic slur.

So, that mystery word could be:

  • Jews
  • Jeus (a misspelling of the above?)
  • Tens (a shortening of tenants?)
  • Something else

I'd say we're probably overthinking it, and it's clearly "Jews." And we shouldn't turn away from confronting that type of prejudice, which existed then and exists now. But obviously Johnnie isn't here to defend himself, and the door should be open for some benefit of the doubt. One reason I grappled with this for so long is that the W leading into the S in "Jews" just doesn't look right to me. But I have nothing else to compare it to. And then there's also the fact that Johnnie writes his J's in multiple ways.

Here's the full back of the postcard:


  1. I stared at this for another 5 minutes. Still think I would go with my first guess; but you're right. Johnnie isn't here to defend himself.

    1. Was your first guess Jews?? Mine was and Chris sort of had me talked out of it.

    2. Joan, yep, it was. I like the new "pens" theory, though :)

  2. The abbreviation "Tens" refers to "Tenements", squalid living quarters common in lower Manhattan at the turn of the century.

    Note the cursive uppercase "T" which contrasts markedly with the cursive uppercase "J" in "Joint".

    Furthermore, leaving Manhattan for Brooklyn as a means of avoiding individuals of Jewish heritage would have been counterproductive, then as now.

    The writer and sender of this postcard was one John ("Johnnie") H. Moulfair (1901-1964), son of John Sipert Moulfair (1880-1946) and the addressee Miriam M. (Selin) Moulfair (1882-1963). All names and dates are readily found on

    The exact year of issue of the 1¢ stamp is no simple task from the website alone, but should be between 1908 and 1923. See:

    Still, if Johnnie were out and about in Manhattan at 2 AM -- and if his postcard were postmarked at 2:30 AM -- and based on the level of his handwriting and his date of birth in 1901, this card was most likely written and mailed in the early 1920's.

    -- M.F.