A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from December 17, 2004
"Jay walking" was first named that in Kansas City, not New York. "Jay," according to the Historical Dictionary of American Slang, is "a stupid, gullible, or contemptible fellow; (also) a rustic; greenhorn." The "jay walk" is how this rustic would walk in a big city.

"Jaywalking" is probably most popular today as a comedy segment on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Mayor Rudy Giuliani was going to get tough on "jaywalkers" as well as all other "criminals," but that wasn't accepted.

It is not legal to "jaywalk" in New York City, but the law is usually not enforced.

15 May 1912, Oshkosh (WI) Daily Northwestern, pg. 9, col. 3:
"Jay Walking."

Knasas City has decided that as a city grows it is very evident that all traffic on foot as well as on wheels must be controlled. It believes that the "jay walk" is a menace to traffic in a busy city, and will not permit him to stray all over a street on which the movement of vehicles is strictly regulated and so increase the danger of accidents, nor will it allow him to cut corners. The Kansas City Star says of the new ordinance: "It is not so bad for Kansas City to be setting the pace in such matters, Incidently, the police force, which is enforcing the ordinance with vigor and discretion, deserves a large share of the credit for ushering in the new regime of orderly traffic." - The Survey.

2 June 1912, Indianapolis (IN) Star, pg. 15, col. 1:

We were told by one of our visitors that the city of Kansas City, Mo., has an ordinance which makes it criminal to cross the streets at any other place than the regular prescribed crossings. In some way or other this habit is termed "jay walking" in that city and the "Auto Era" at Cleveland, O., speaks of it in these terms:

"'Jay walking' is not unknown in Cleveland. It includes in a broader sense not only the diagonal crossing of street intersection, but as well walking on the left hand side of the sidewalk, or pausing to hold converse in the middle thereof. These seem trifling subjects of legislation, yet they amount to a serious matter, a nuisance if not a menace."

2 October 1912, Atlanta (GA) Constitution, pg. 4:

Ordinance Will Be introduced
to Prevent Accidents

W. S. Witham, the well-known banker, has sent a commiunication to the city authorities asking that a law be passed to regulate the "jay walkers." He said that the jay walkers should be regulated as well as the autos and other vehicles.

2 December 1915, Atlanta (GA) Constitution, pg. 8:
Perhaps one of the worst traffic dangers of today is what it known as "jay walking." People cross the streets any and everywhere, without regard to traffic, darting in front of fast-moving motor vehicles, doodging horses and street cars, and even braving ambulances and fire apparatus with no satisfaction except the consciousness that "they did it," and then having plenty of time to turn and contemplate the danger they have escaped.

2 December 1915, New York Times, pg. 10:
Middle-Block Crossing Is Defended.

More than a little sympathy will be felt for the correspondent who expressed resentment yesterday at the official application of the word "jaywalkers" - a truly shocking name and highly opprobrious - to people who cross the city streets in the middle of blocks instead of at their ends.

That may be a bringing of rustic habit into the city, and, on general principles, that is not to be commended, since it usually indicated indifference to the unlikeness of rural and urban conditions. But a poproceeding is not necessarily "jay" because it is a country custom, and, as a matter of fact, city folk can give, and some of them do, a reason more than fairly good for crossing the streets where the police say they should not.

Posted by Barry Popik
Workers/People • (0) Comments • Friday, December 17, 2004 • Permalink