How to Spell Mystery in 3 Letters

Not everything in the Gulick files is explainable. Take the three handwritten letters from Poland that arrived at the Bronxville, N.Y., home of Luther and Helen Gulick in March and April, 1948.


What’s so mysterious about that? you may ask.

Well, for one thing they all turned out to have come from the same person and said much the same thing.

And none of the three letters had ever been opened — although the last had a small section torn from the corner, as if the recipient had started to open it and stopped. That letter, too, remained unread, as it could not have been extracted through that opening.

Silently begging the Gulicks’s pardon (neither being around to ask), project archivist Aleksandr Gelfand set about carefully slitting open the envelopes and removing the contents.




The letters, penned in careful Polish script, were postmarked March 23, 1948 (two of them on the same day!) and April 26, 1948. They were signed by one Zofia Zalewska  in Serwatki, a village in northeastern Poland.

The first two, addressed to Mrs. Gulick and all but identical began : “Dear Madam, I have received from madam packages  for my betterment  for which I am very grateful to madam for that aid helped to nurture my sick son, and I ask madam to provide more aid.”

The letter went on to plead “for help to clothe my family which has been reduced to difficulties because of the war.”

The letter to Luther a month later expanded on their suffering during the war and provided details: “There are 10 persons in the family, a husband and eight children from 18 to 6 years of age.”

So the Gulicks seemed to have helped a struggling Polish family after the war.

But who were the Zalewskas? How did they find the Gulicks? And why did Zofia’s letters remain unopened?

In Hamlet’s dying words, “The rest is silence.”


The “Poor” Police of a Century Ago

In 1913, the Bureau of Municipal Research took on a nagging question: could New York City’s 10,000 police officers live on their salaries?

And if they couldn’t, how were they and their families (average size: 3.4 people) surviving?

The answer to the first question was “no.”

There were various answers to the second question, but the most obvious (dishonesty) was carefully skirted by the Bureau.

In those days, first-year cops earned $800 a year — in today’s dollars $19,186. That’s way below what rookies start at now: $44,744, representing top base pay, longevity and holiday pay, uniform allowance and average night shift differential, but not overtime, according to the NYPD.


But an average police family’s annual expenses in 1913, the study found,  totaled $848.71, not counting required expenditures like uniforms, equipment and frequent fines, which added another $237.41.

So officers had to spend $1,086.12 on earnings of $800.


Police Commissioner Douglas Imrie McKay, circa 1913, about the time of the police report on impoverished cops


How did they do it? And –equally mysterious — why?

Knowing what we know now about corruption in the NYPD through the 1970 “Serpico”‘ scandal broken by The New York Times, the Bureau’s explanations seem less than fully satisfying. But the calculations — based on interviews with 100 patrolmen and their families who agreed to share details of their household budgets — are quite illuminating.

The Bureau based its cost of living on studies from 1905 to 1907, so the financial pressures on the cops were even greater than the figures suggested, the study noted. On the other hand, rents were far less than today — the average was $14.39 a year –or $349 in today’s dollars. On the third hand, the apartments were often hovels, with shared bathrooms and outhouses in the back yard.

More than one out of three lived in apartments without bath. Indeed baths weren’t usually found in apartments renting for less than $15 a year.

So how did they survive?

By living off savings, taking charity, borrowing (including pawning meager possessions), buying on installment, and living on credit. Half the families bought food day-to-day, in pitiful and affordable quantities.

Clothing, many wives said was the first thing to go. “We cut down on clothing, never on food,” one explained, “–we can stay in if we have no clothing but good adequate food is a necessity.”

Amusement was usually out of the question. On rare occasions they went to the movies. Usually for entertainment they took walks.

Why anyone would become a patrolman under such circumstances was difficult for the officers themselves to explain –particularly since other jobs from taxi driver to horse shoer, grocery clerk, brick layer, florist and mechanic all paid considerably more.

They cited job security and the pension, annual raises until the sixth year when the salary reached a respectable $1,400 a year — $33,576 in today’s dollars. (Still far short of the top pay now of $90,829.)

Nobody mentioned what you could take home in booty or bribes.

The Bureau didn’t bring it up either but recommended raising the salaries to $1,000 for the first year, $1,100 for the second year, $1,200 for the third year, and $1,400 thereafter. The paychecks, it said, should be issued twice-a-month instead of monthly, so the families could rely less on credit, the city should supply the uniforms and equipment, or at last advance money for their purchase, provide free hospital care and consider food commissaries for the officers’s meals.

Reforms did follow, slowly, in years to come.


How it All Began — With A Scandal


Humble beginnings: the Bureau of Municipal Research in the early 1900s

In the bible of civic reform, the Citizens Union of the City of New York begat the Bureau of City Betterment. The Bureau of City Betterment begat the Bureau of Municipal Research. And the Bureau of Municipal Research begat the Institute of Public Administration, Luther Gulick and a new science of efficient, effective, honest, professional and responsive government.

This is a story of how the begats began.

In the beginning was the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, or AICP, founded in 1843. In 1897, AICP was instrumental in the formation of  the Citizens Union of the City of New York, which is still around, one of the oldest and most venerated of the goo-goos, or good-government organizations. The founding chairman of the Citizens Union was a wealthy civic crusader, Robert Fulton Cutting, descendant of that Robert Fulton.

We highlighted Cutting in an earlier post. https://blogs.baruch.cuny.edu/ipaprocessing/2014/10/the-father-of-the-research-bureau/

In 1905, Cutting and other reformers, notably Henry Bruere and William H. Allen, organized a research wing of the Citizens Union, known as the Bureau of City Betterment. (It would morph into the influential Bureau of Municipal Research two years later.)


The Bureau of City Betterment burst on the scene in 1906 with an incendiary report blandly entitled “How Manhattan in Governed.”  A forerunner of the studies that the Bureau of Municipal Research would become legendary for undertaking across the nation, it fearlessly exposed the wasteful and corrupt administration of the Tammany-controlled Borough President, John F. Ahearn. The impact was devastating.


The report revealed that in 1904 and 1905, Ahearn’s office spent the equivalent of nearly $26 million today on non-bid contracts, work that often went to cronies. And that was only the beginning.

It should be noted that the united City of New York was a mere child at the time, the five counties joining together only in 1898.  As part of the consolidation, the borough presidents sat on the Board of Public Improvements with great sway over highways and streets, rail tracks, sewers, lighting, bridges, public buildings, and purchasing — a patronage-rich portfolio, to be sure.

Ahearn, born in 1853, won election to the New York State Assembly before he was 30, and later served in the state Senate where he started off opposed to the Democratic machine known as Tammany Hall but soon became a reliable ally, gaining Tammany’s endorsement for the borough presidency in 1903. The job at the time paid the equivalent today of about $155,000.

He staffed the office with party hacks, including his chief aide and commissioner of public works, one William Dalton, a butcher and carpenter by trade. When once asked by an Assembly investigating committee to state his engineering credentials, Dalton replied, “I owned an engine for some years.”

Not surprisingly, then, the Bureau of City Betterment found egregious abuses in the purchase of asphalt for the streets, inflated payrolls, and slipshod work. What were then called “incumbrances” — private construction on public thoroughfares — had also run amok, with Ahearn’s office turning a blind eye to the lack of permits. Abandoned trolley tracks that were supposed to be torn up and paved over were allowed to fester, the railway companies pocketing the savings.

It was all laid out, chapter and verse, in the group’s report.

The newspapers jumped on it, giving credit to the scrappy young reform bureau.


So did the city’s two crusading Commissioners of Accounts — particularly John Purroy Mitchel (consistently misspelled by the papers as “Mitchell) who would ride his reformist zeal into City Hall in 1914 as the 34-year-old “Boy Mayor” of New York. Manhattan District Attorney William T. Jerome (a first cousin, once removed, of Winston Churchill) opened a criminal investigation.




Ahearn was not accused of personal enrichment, but rather wasting millions of city dollars on dubious contracts with Tammany sidekicks that left  streets of Manhattan a rutted moonscape. Soon the matter was handed off to Republican Gov. Charles Evans Hughes who removed Ahearn in 1907.

But the story wasn’t over.

Ahearn ran again for Borough President — and won again. By the time the New York Court of Appeals ruled his election illegal, upholding Hughes’s decision, Ahearn had no recourse but to retire. Hughes went on to join the United States Supreme Court and run a losing race against Woodrow Wilson for President.

And The Bureau of City Betterment could justify its name.


Something Sweet for the Holidays

You might not recognize the name of the letter-writer, or even the limited Newark partnership on the letterhead, but Bruce Murrie, who sought Gulick’s organizational advice in 1944, was half of the team (with Forrest E. Mars, Sr., ) that pioneered M&Ms.

(Yes, that Mars, as in Mars Bars.)


Gulick at the time had other things on his mind — winning World War II, for one thing — so he seems to have put Murrie off. Still, it looks like he sampled the revolutionary new chocolate candy.

His reaction? We don’t know.

And by the way: how do they get the initials on each little piece?



A Date Which Will Live in Infamy…

The terrible day at Pearl Harbor 73 years ago this Sunday – Dec. 7, 1941 (a Sunday also!) — is seared into our collective memory. The Japanese surprise attack killed 2,403 Americans by official Navy count, crippled the US fleet and air force and hurled us into World War II, already raging for more than two years in Europe and longer in Asia.

NYT dec71941

Here’s a draft of FDR’s unforgettable speech to Congress:


On that Sunday, Luther Gulick — then working on the National Resources Defense Council as a member of the Committee on Post-War Planning (typical – he was already thinking ahead!) — had traveled to Boston to deliver a speech on military preparedness and budgeting to the Harvard Business School.



Gulick’s text seems at first glance to record the exact moment when he hears of the Japanese attack. He changes his opening from “We have been threatened” to “We have been attacked…”


But wait! He goes on to cite, not the Japanese but “an insane group of Nazi political racketeers and military adventurers…”

Moreover, he could not yet have known of the Pearl Harbor attack. His speech was scheduled for noon. The attack began at 7:53 am Hawaii time — with the five hour-time difference, 12:53 pm on the East Coast — and was over in two hours. The Associated Press sent out the first bulletin while the bombing was still underway, at 2:22 pm eastern time.

Meanwhile, Gulick, unaware, along with his audience, of the world-shaking events across the Pacific, went on with his talk, citing estimates and projections as far off as 1950.






The title of his talk on Dec. 7, 1941 — ill-chosen or amazingly far-sighted?:  “When Peace Comes.”