On the other hand, some of the customers went hungry. The practice of Bowery derelicts was to buy the cheapest admission price, 50�, on Sunday nights, when the grind started at midnight, and to hope for a six-night flop. There was no way of getting food except to steal it, and that took skill, for the attendants were vigilant. The guards were also on the lookout for anyone trying to shave in the men's rooms and so, as the week wore on, the uninvited lodgers began to look more and more like what they were: bums. Their nights of sleeping in the seats near the roof came to an end around Thursday when the city police would move in with the paddy wagons.
One of the most exciting races ever run occurred in March 1923, when the winner among the 15 starting teams was not decided until the closing minutes of the final hour. From the time Frankie Genaro, a boxer of the day, fired off the starting gun, at one minute after midnight on Sunday, until the following Saturday night, the Garden was a bedlam of international rivalry. The riders ranged from Americans through the Tasmanian, Alfred Grenda, to the Swiss Oscar Egg. Whenever Egg became involved in a pileup, the wits of the time could be depended upon to refer to it as a scramble.
The real favorite, however, was Maurice Brocco, an Italian, who was noted for starting jams. As soon as he streaked out of the single-file pack, the yell would go up: "B-r-o-c-c-o!" Brocco was the best jammer but on this occasion it was Grenda and Alfred Goullet, who waited until the waning minutes of the 1923 race to speed around the track without being caught, while the spectators screamed hysterically.
Another annual event was the Wild West Show, with Colonel Buffalo Bill Cody bringing on his troupe of cowboys and Indians. The trick riding and roping and the flavor of the Old West always thrilled the eastern audiences. The scenes of carnage were especially popular, and Buffalo Bill gave the customers their full share of gore. When he announced his retirement in 1910, with the words, "This old scout must no longer follow the trail," he got one of the Garden's greatest ovations. There was many a tear shed as the Colonel, well past 60, with his long white hair, white mustache and chin tuft, backed his intelligent horse the length of the Garden.
In between the social and sporting events at the Garden were the political conclaves. At the turn of the century, young William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic candidate for President, mesmerized a hostile Garden audience with his oratory. Many years later the famous Al Smith-William Gibbs McAdoo deadlock convention tied up the Garden in 1924, with the interminable " Alabama casts 24 votes for Underwood." Tex Rickard, by then custodian of the lease, had offered the politicians the Garden without rent and with free use of the food concessions, on the assumption that the meeting would be a quick one, but as the days dragged on, with the stand-off balloting, Rickard was literally eaten out of business.
The Garden was sometimes used for loftier purposes, though, such as bazaars for the cause of women's suffrage, and religious revivals. An evangelist from Chicago, the Reverend John Alexander Dowie, preached there in 1903. He was called, obscurely, Elijah The Third and he did not draw well (except for the first week of a two-week stand when mobs stormed the Garden to laugh at him), perhaps because he was given to such subject matter as "Zion's Conflict with Methodist Apostasy, Especially in Connection with Freemasonry." When the listless revival was over, some free-thinking critic attacked Dowie in a tract called, "The Prophet and His Profits."
Eventually, despite an occasional moneymaker, the Garden became known as a white elephant. In 1917 the New York Life Insurance Company decided to foreclose on the mortgages it held, and to erect an office building in the Garden's stead. But Tex Rickard, financed by John Ringling, now owner of the circus, stepped forward and signed a long-term lease as proprietor of the Garden.
Rickard put on big box-office fights, and in the early '20s the Garden held its own. But one final scandal caused even Rickard to become disenchanted. The Garden had installed a swimming pool that took up the whole arena and the public was encouraged to consort with such Olympic stars of the day as Aileen Riggin, Helen Meany and Helen Wainwright. A diving board up near the roof was used for exhibitions and at least one paying customer tried the high dive, with disastrous results.
Early in 1922 several young girls, ranging in age from 11 to 15, accused Rickard of making their acquaintance at poolside and then luring them up to the tower, Stanford White's old quarters. There was an aura of frameup about the charges, and Rickard, backed by his wife, Edith Mae, elected to go to court. His lawyer, the brilliant Max Steuer, won a verdict of not guilty.
Rickard continued to operate the Garden for the next few years, but he finally decided to let the New York Life foreclose on its mortgages and put up its office building. The wails of the sports fans were quieted when Rickard announced that he had induced a group of investment men to guarantee $5� million with which to build an uptown Garden. He was fascinated by the thought that the enterprise could incorporate and be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.