Volume 79, Number 17 | Sept. 30 - Oct 6, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

James Macklin, outreach director of the Bowery Mission.

With art, music, history, mission marks milestone

By Albert Amateau 

Serving homeless and derelict men since 1879, the Bowery Mission is getting ready for the 100th anniversary of the opening of its chapel at 227 Bowery with a free Anniversary Art Series every Thursday evening in October.

The mission building on the east side of Bowery between Rivington and Stanton Sts., where President William Howard Taft attended the opening on Nov. 6, 1909, will have free guided tours from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. and from 8:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. during the October Thursday art series.

Over the years, the mission has provided shelter, food, hope and dignity for thousands of men who ended up on what was known as the “Street of No Return.” In recent years the Bowery Mission has expanded its world-renowned drug and alcohol recovery program to include a women’s center on the Upper East Side, a residential recovery program for men on Avenue D, and its Kids With a Promise program, including a summer camp in the Pocono Mountains, a summer day camp and a leadership academy where high school students are mentored by adult volunteers.

Volunteers are a vital part of the Bowery Mission; they help prepare and serve 800 meals every day at 227 Bowery. Last year their service totaled 38,691 volunteer hours. The chapel program, led by a 40-member team comprised of local churches, hosts worship services three times a day.

The all-volunteer Bowery Medical Services, run by doctors and professional optometrists, provides medical and optometric care every Wednesday, and treated 551 patients with a variety of conditions last year. The Mission’s Outreach Program took more than 34,000 meals last year to homeless and low-income people in various parks in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

James Macklin, Bowery Mission’s director of outreach, recalled that he was a self-made man in his early 40s with a cleaning business in New Jersey until the mid-1980s when he started abusing alcohol and free-basing cocaine. 

“I lost my way,” he told a visitor. “I didn’t know what I wanted and I thought I could afford to do whatever I pleased.”

He became homeless, hung around Washington Heights near the George Washington Bridge and slept on the A train. 

“One day a lady woke me up and said, ‘What is a man like you doing in this condition?’ She gave me a Bowery Mission card and I came down to check it out,” he said.

“I was always a taker, but I knew how to talk and get around people,” Macklin said. “It was Dec. 28, 1987, there was this man at the door who looked at me and said, ‘Bowery Mission doesn’t need you. You need Bowery Mission.’ He became my intake counselor — Frank Jackson. He was a no-nonsense man,” Macklin recalled. “It wasn’t easy, I was given a second chance at life and learned to be a giver. When I look at someone’s face, I see God, but I’m not going to take a Bible and choke you with it.”

In 1992, Bowery Mission was going through reorganization, Macklin recalled, and the new president of the Bowery Mission board of trustees, Ed Morgan, asked him to run the mission at 227 Bowery.

“I thought he was out of his mind,” Macklin said. “I told him I was going to give it some thought. So I went around to people here and they told me to go to it. So I took the job and determined to do my best. With everyone’s help, I did it for five years,” he said.

The Bowery has changed radically in the past 20 years. Macklin noted that many of the Bowery flophouses have gone and affluent nightlife is replacing them. 

The Bowery Mission, founded in 1879 by the Reverend and Mrs. A. G. Rulifson at 14 Bowery (near Chatham Square), has changed too. The Christian Herald, a popular and influential newspaper published by Dr. Louis Klopsch, took over the mission and its building in 1895 to prevent it from falling into secular control. The Herald expanded into book publishing and coordinated worldwide disaster relief.

Reverend Daniel Poling, who served as an emissary for Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, was an editor of the Christian Herald. But the Herald’s publishing business declined in the 1970s and the paper last appeared in 1992.

In 1994, the board of directors and Morgan, the new president, discontinued the book business and reorganized the Bowery Mission to be self-supporting, with 200 major donors, 40 foundations, a dozen corporations and government support for the residential recovery program and the women’s residence.

City officials will attend the 100th anniversary celebration of the mission on Nov. 6. The Thursday Anniversary Art Series begins Oct. 1 with a re-creation of the life of Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) — a blind woman preacher who lived in New York and wrote roughly 8,000 religious hymns — by the actress Ann Nelson and musician Tim Mercaldo.

On Oct. 8, Eric Ferrara, founder of The Lower East Side History Project, and Bob Holman, founder of the Bowery Poetry Club, will present “A Night of Bowery Stories, Poetry and Art.” An art show, curated by Anna Sawaryn, of photos, photo collages and mixed media, will be installed. Vintage photos of the Bowery over the years from the collection of Jeremy Rowe will be on display.
A screening of “On the Bowery,” the renowned 1957 documentary on Bowery life under the Third Ave. El will be presented on Oct. 15 by the son of Lionel Rogosin, who made the film.

Oct. 22 will see a multimedia presentation of the lives of Fanny Crosby and Jacob Riis, who wrote “How the Other Half Lives,” with his own photos, in 1890 about Bowery tenements. Tony Carnes, an expert on Crosby, and Edith Blumhofer, Riis’s biographer, will present the program.

On Oct. 29, there will be a screening of “Slumming It,” a 2002 documentary by Scott Elliott exploring the Bowery as it enters the 21st century.

The balladeers John Rainbow and Steve Elson will perform on Oct. 22 and Oct. 29.

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