Smells From the Past: The Fulton Fish Market

Scientific American:

It’s been a very hot summer here in New York City. And the city smells. It’s more than the smell of baking asphalt, exhaust fumes, and lack of deodorant—these smells are around all year. The heat has awakened older smells.

Around midday, if you happen to stroll down by the South Street Seaport​ you can pick up on the smell of fish in the air. If you can manage to follow your nose—which really isn’t all that hard to do—it will lead you right to the old site of the Fulton Fish Market. It has been closed since 2005, but if you close your eyes while you stand outside the gates of the old market building you can smell the day’s catch and just hear the bustle of fishmongers at their trade.

In the early 1800s, a large open air market was set up on Fulton Street. The market sold the staples of everyday life, including coffee, shoes, stationary, books, ice cream, and pistols, as well as fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. Located near the East River, its proximity to the water also meant plenty of fresh fish, but at this time, the fishmongers were only a section of the market. The market’s location also meant plenty of customers: the Fulton Ferry could steam residents over from Brooklyn to add to the trade. It was important that the market be as convenient as possible because refrigeration technologies had not yet been cleared for home and consumer use, so folks needed to purchase their meat and produce as freshly as possible. It was also place to get a meal. There were several pushcart vendors and oyster stalls that served lunchtime crowds. Market days were a regular feature of social life, as research completed by Fordham students tells us:

The Fulton Market provided a place for social interaction and the completion of daily errands. This clientele varied from that of sailors, prostitutes, and other subcultures, to businessmen from the growing financial district to the north, which gave varied kinds of social contact. Wherever there is trade, the exchange of goods facilitates the exchange of ideas. The Fulton Market could be a place to share opinions on any topic. The market freed people from social restraints and divisions, in a sense. Wealthy merchants and poor sailors rubbed elbows at the oyster stands, while women of every social standing shopped. All classes mingled together at the market, which gave the market an equalizing quality.

Read the whole story: Scientific American

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