Plot & Details
New York of the 19th century was already a haven of celebrities; showman P.T. Barnum's museum drew crowds on Broadway, and up the street the great photographer Mathew Brady stayed busy taking "likenesses" of the rich and famous. However, when British author Charles Dickens visited New York in 1842, the poverty and squalor he witnessed in New York appalled him; he noted that it was worse than any of London's. Indeed, as revealed in the second episode of this epic PBS documentary series, New York's rapid growth didn't come without a human cost. Gangs as bad or worse than any in the 20th century roamed the harsh tenement slums. Disparity between rich and poor, American-born and immigrant, culminated in the draft riots during the sweltering summer of July 1863. Angry over the unfairness of the newly instituted Civil War draft (rich men could buy their way out of the military), mobs of men, women, and children rampaged through the streets causing millions of dollars in damage. Several blacks got lynched during the riots, and federal troops had to be called back from the still-smoking battlefields of Gettysburg to restore the peace. Highlights include archival daguerreotypes, paintings, and engravings, as well as commentary by numerous guests including historian Thomas Bender, poet Allen Ginsberg, architect Robert A. M. Stern, and historian Gretchen Sullivan Sorin. Other features include dramatic readings by various people including Frances Sternhagen, Keith David, Spalding Gray, Philip Bosco, Eli Wallach, and George Plimpton. Directed by Ric Burns and narrated by David Ogden Stiers.