PS/IS 686 | Brooklyn, NY

Grade 8 Humanities: Week of 1/29/2018 Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely


“Mustache Voter Fraud”

Dear Families,

The emergence of urban political machines in the late 1800s and early 20th century signaled a new potential for widespread corruption.  The most famous political machine being New York City’s Tammany Hall, which dominated Democratic Party politics at this point in time.

“Boss” Tweed, the 3rd largest landowner in New York City, basically ran New York in the 1860s and early 1870s. Boss Tweed is famous for the county courthouse that now houses the New York City Department of Education (referred to in modern times simply as “Tweed”). Building the courthouse was estimated at about $250,000, but ended up costing $13,000,000 by the time it was finished in 1871. Tammany Hall received $2 for every $1 received by the contractor as a standard kickback.

Tammany Hall also “helped” immigrants and poor people with goods and services — in exchange for votes. Of course there were other ways to obtain votes, most notably what we like to call: Mustache Voter Fraud. Bearded men would vote, then Tammany Hall reps would take them to the barber to shave off the beard but leave the mustache.  They would vote a second time and then shave off the mustache and vote for a third time!

At the national level, Congress was pretty dysfunctional at the end of the 19th century (that seems strangely familiar somehow . . .) so state governments tried to expand their responsibility for the health and welfare of the citizens, investing in public works such as transportation, electricity and education.



The normalization of so many decades of corruption bears heavily on the impoverished characters in The Jungle as well.  Without many options, our protagonist, Jurgis, becomes both a victim and perpetrator of the fraud, violence, and corruption around him.

We had a welcome break from the abuses of power on Thursday, however, for a visit from some of BSI’s Alumni. Thank you to our 2017 graduates who took time out of their Midterms/Regents Week to meet with our current 8th graders for a High School Talk (not to mention, Amy was on crutches from a gymnastics injury!)


Left to right: Francesca Cantor from Bard Queens, Emmanuelle Monahan from Townsend Harris, Alison Cherkasov from New Dorp Honors, Eliet Williamson-Diaz from Bard Manhattan, Amy Grafi from Midwood, Adiv Ish-Shalom from Goldstein, Jasper Shepard from Brooklyn Tech, Max Nadeau from Brooklyn Latin, Sofia Cirone from Murrow, Angelica Baburova from Staten Island Tech, Owen Bryson from Bard Manhattan, and Kate Wu from Brooklyn Tech.

A very special thank you to Francesca’s mom, Joy Nolan, for the outreach and organization of this event. Additional thanks go to Jose Polanco for filming our first Alumni High School Talk, which will be posted online soon 🙂


Ms. Sacilotto

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“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.” — Mark Twain