The findings were chilling. Investigators found that some dairymen were diluting the milk with water, then adding flour to restore its consistency. But worse, unscrupulous dairy farmers, many in Brooklyn, were feeding their cows the alcoholic mash left over from the whiskey distillery process.
These cows were stricken with disease and deformities – losing their tails and hooves and developing open sores. The resulting milk, called “swill milk” by the press, was a thin, bluish liquid. To disguise it, the dairymen added plaster of paris, starch and eggs. Molasses gave it the proper coloring of wholesome milk. Harper’s Weekly, the newspaper that lead the charge against swill milk, reported that up to 8,000 children in New York died every year.
|Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux|
In the meantime, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux won the 1858 design competition for Central Park. Their vision would create open space for all New Yorkers, including the poor and underprivileged. The green spaces, terraces, ponds and roadways were designed not only for their beauty, but to contribute to public health. As the Park developed, it would play a substantial role in the milk crisis.
But for now the unspeakable corruption and tragedy continued. When, in 1862, a Brooklyn “distillery dairy” caught fire, The New York Timesdescribed the deplorable condition of the milk cows that were released into the streets:
Many of the cows were in such a weak condition that they were thrown down and trampled upon by the more recent additions to the stock, and several will have to be braced up before they can undergo the process of milking again…One cow in particular, owing to her deformed feet, being unable to stand, attracted considerable attention, and yet the lookers-on were assured that she gave the best milk of any animal in the whole country. [The cows had] long tails, short tails, stub tails, and some with no tails at all. Their appendages were in every conceivable condition, from a sound stump down to stumps in every degree of decomposition… It was a most pitiable and disgusting spectacle.
|From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly|
wholesome milk and pastries with no fear of contamination.
|The US Food and Drug Administration, formed in 1906
Calvert Vaux designed the dairy, a whimsical fantasy of Victorian Gothic, multi-colored gingerbread right off the pages of Hansel and Gretel. The polychrome wooden loggia was intended to shelter the children from the elements and catch cool breezes in the summer. The stone block dairy, a combination of Manhattan schist and sandstone, took its inspiration from picturesque country German church architecture.
|The Central Park Dairy|