A M E R I C A N    N E W S P A P E R    R E P O S I T O R Y      www.oldpapers.org




Read Articles
from Newspapers

Gallery of

What We Have

How to Contribute

Our Address




New York Tribune
Illustrated Supplement, Sunday, October 26, 1902


                        FOR WORK.

    When schools on the East Side opened a few weeks ago the teachers were astonished at the number of tattooed youngsters who appeared for beginning their schooling. Some of them were as variously decorated as the saltiest of seaman, and the boys who had escaped the needle were so envious that they only wanted an opportunity to join the ranks of the "skin pictures" as the tattooed boys were called.
    The designs were not unlike those one sees on the arms of grown men. Youthful taste had not been allowed to assert itself, for the reason that the tattooers were simply practicing on the boys that they might do better work on the men who came to them. So there was the usual round of anchors, eagles, stars, butterflies, frogs, snakes, hearts entwined and bleeding hearts.
    Then, in a careless moment, one of the tattooers made a mistake. He wanted to try some religious emblems, and was not particular as to the faith of the victim. In everlasting ink he put a picture of the crucifixion, popular with Roman Catholics, upon the chest of a Jewish boy. The father naturally objected and complained to the boy's teacher.
    Another amateur tattooer pricked out an elaborate cemetery scene with the inscription "To the memory of Beloved Mother Gone to Rest." Quite by accident, probably, he put it on the skin of a boy whose mother is very much alive, and has no idea of "going to rest" just yet.
    The boy strutted all the way home and was the envy of every other child in Attonrey-st. He hunted up his mother and showed her the pathetic tribute to her memory. She failed to see the joke. So did the boy after she had finished tattooing another part of his anatomy with a slipper. She, too, complained to the boy's teacher.
    The craze for tattooing grew worse, and each morning saw new additions to the ranks of the disfigured. One morning the climax was reached when a dozen little boys and several little girls appeared with beetles, shrimps, lobsters and butterflies crawling over their faces.
    The teachers reported this wholesale outrage to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Then they investigated and found that facial decorations were only imitations of real tattooing. The designs had been stamped on from transfer paper and would entirely disappear after a few washings. This, however, means some little span of time among many East Side children.
    In the mean time Agent King, of the Children’s society, had been busy, and arrested Charles Wagner, a young tattooer, of No. 23 ½ Bowery. Magistrate Deuel let him go on his promise to keep his needles away from young boys.
    “It serves them right for practicing on ‘kids,’” said “Electric” Elmer, the “Wonder Tattooer,” of Chatham Square. His real name is real name is Elmer E. Glitchell. Those who call at his tattooing shop address him as “Professor.” He says he is an “artist,” and that his art should rank with music, poetry and painting.
    “Never would you catch me tattooing a ‘kid,’” he continued. “They are not old enough to know whether or not they really want to be tattooed, and they have no ideas about picking out artistic designs for the decoration of their skins. The judge did right in stopping the amateur tattooers.”
    “It’s a good thing for you that there is no society for the prevention of cruelty to grown men and women,” said his visitor.
    “You’re on the wrong track, my son,” said the “Professor.” “There is no cruelty about tattooing by my electric process. It feels just like scratching your hand, and does not even draw blood.”
    “But you will admit that you disfigure your patients,” suggested the visitor.
    “Disfigure!” he exclaimed. “Wrong again, and mighty wrong. If the tattooing is done artistic-like it is a positive decoration. Why, some of the men I turn out are as proud as a turkey with two tails. They’d like to go around with their coats off in the winter time just to show my clever work.
    “I’m afraid you don’t know much about the way the human mind works on the tattooing strain of thought. To get it straight, I’ll outline you the history of the art.
    “Tattooing is an ancient and honorable practice. It goes back to the wooden age—before the folks that lived then knew what metal was. They went to war with axes made from wood. In order to harden the wood they carried it slightly with fire. They whacked each other with a good deal of skill and some of the charcoal came off in the wound. When it healed a
blue streak was left. Warriors were known from the number of such streaks that their faces showed. Presently they found out how to make streaks in times of peace. From what it was but a step to crude designs, and in the centuries that followed tattooing has developed.”
    “Professor” Glitchell described in detail the crude methods used by half civilized and barbarous tribes in various parts of the world. Then he showed examples of elaborate Japanese tattooing and the neat tools which the little brown men use.
    Finally, with a proud smile, he turned to the electric tattooing machine which he invented a number of years ago.
    He was about to illustrate its manner of working by adding to the designs upon his own arm, when a young East Side merchant came in. He wanted a sitting and the professor was willing. The first thing to do was to decide upon the design. The young man though he wanted something sentimental.
    “Give me something that will show a couple of hearts and my sweetheart’s name,” he said. “Her name is ‘Freda.’”
    “Now young man,” said the “professor” sagely, “just let me give you some advice. This tattooing is more serious than getting married. It is for life, and marriage—well you can get the law to break up a marriage. There is no law that will divorce tattooing. You love Freda now; are you sure that you will always love her? Your next girl might not care for
another’s name on your hide.”
    The young merchant was not sure, and went further for a design. He finally selected a sword bearing this inscription: “Death before Dishonor.”
    "It is surprising," said the "professor," "how many 'Death-before-dishonors' I put in. It shows the fine feelings and uprightness of the young men who come to me."
    The young man bared his arm and the operation began. The “professor” washed the skin with antiseptic and shaved away the hairs. He rubbed a little cocaine into the skin and then stenciled the design. He turned the current into his electric outline machine, and at the rate of a thousand punctures a minute
traced the outline.
     The patient winced once or twice at first, but soon got used to the pricking sensation, and made no complaint. There was little or no sign of blood. The "professor" held out his arm that the patient might select the colors he desired, and the arm made a perfect color sheet. Blue, red and green were the colors that appealed to the merchant and the outline was soon completed with a brush.
     The design was finished with a shading machine also operated by electricity. Although eight needles went into the man's skin at each throb of the current he said that it did not hurt as much as the outline machine with its single point of steel. More color was worked into the holes left by the shading machine, and the job was done, all but binding up the arm.
     According to the "Professor" a great many women in New-York have fallen victims to the tattooing craze at one time or another. "Real silk-stocking society women at that," says he. "The Saviour wearing a crown of thorns is the most popular piece with women, and after that they go for butterflies. I know one woman who has her husband's portrait tattooed upon her breast. Another man who lost his wife and two little girls had me do their pictures on his chest. Then there is a sort of tattooing that some women demand which has nothing to do with a design. It is for the purpose of giving them a new and permanent complexion, a case of cheeks always rosy. There are possibilities in
this direction for the tattooer who is willing to sacrifice his art. But as for me--I am an artist."


Transcribed by Mark Maier, University of South Carolina






  (Click the image to enlarge it.)











With portraits of his wife and children on his breast.