Dr. H. H. Kane and the 19th Century “Hash-Heesh” Smoking Parlors of NYC | Cannabis Culture


CANNABIS CULTURE – “Wasting of the muscles, sallowness of the skin, hebetude of the mind, interference with coordination, failure of the appetite, convulsive seizures, loss of strength, and idiotic offspring, seem, from all accounts, to be the uniform result of the long-continued use of this drug.”                                                 

– Dr. H. H. Kane, regarding “The Hashisch Habit”, from “Drugs That Enslave”, 1881, p. 218

A few weeks ago I had received an email from my friend and fellow drug historian Michael Horowitz. He included an attachment of an old copy of “The Marijuana Review” from 1971 – the same year I was born.

The Marijuana Review was a clipping zine that Michael Aldrich – the first person in the United States to get a degree in marijuana history – would use to circulate interesting historical facts about cannabis and other drugs. This particular issue was devoted to reprinting an article from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, from their November 1883 edition – “A Hashish House in New York – The Curious Adventures of an Individual Who Indulged in a Few Pipefuls of the Narcotic Hemp” . The Harper’s article was interesting for two reasons: 1) it contained a rare, detailed description of the inner workings of a hashish smoking parlor from New York City in 1883, and 2) it mentioned that the parlor served other drugs including coca tea. This caught my attention immediately, as I had just begun working at Dana Larsen’s “Coca Leaf Café” on Hastings Street in Vancouver, and we serve coca tea there, amongst other things. (1)

The photocopy of the Harper’s article in the Marijuana Review zine was hard to read in spots and missing a page, so I looked online to see if I could buy a copy of the genuine article. It turns out it was available, and so, a week or so went by and it arrived in the mail. I immediately read it and was enthralled by both the description of the magnificent décor and the manner in which the coca tea was served:

“Not an inharmonious detail marred the symmetry of the whole. Beneath, my feet sank almost ankle-deep into a velvety carpet – a sea of subdued colors. Looked at closely, I found that the design was that of a garden: beds of luxurious flowers, stars and crescents, squares and diamond-shaped plots, made up of thousands of rate exotics and richly colored leaves. Here a brook, edged with damp verdure, from beneath which peeped coy violets and tiny bluebells: there a serpentine graveled walk that wound in and out amongst the exquisite plants, and everywhere a thousand shrubs in bloom or bud. Above, a magnificent chandelier, consisting of six dragons of beaten gold, from whose eyes and throats sprang flames, the light from which, striking against a series of curiously set prisms, fell shattered and scintillating into a thousand glancing beams that illuminated every corner of the room. The rows of prisms being of clear and variously colored glass, and the dragons slowly revolving, a weird and ever-changing hue was given to every object in the room. … Pulling a tasseled cord that hung above our heads, my friend spoke a few words to gaudily turbaned colored servant who came noiselessly into the room in answer to his summons, disappeared again, and in a moment returned bearing a tray, which he placed between us. Upon it was a small lamp of silver filigree-work, two globe-like bowls, of silver also, from which protruded a long silver tube and a spoon-like instrument. The latter, I soon learned, was used to clean and fill the pipes. Placing the bronze jar of hashish on the tray, by friend bade me lay my pipe beside it, and suck up the fluid in the silver cup through the long tube. I did so, and found it delicious. ‘That,’ said he, ‘is tea made from the genuine coca leaf. The cup is the real mate and the tube a real bombilla from Peru. Now let us smoke. The dried shrub here is known as gunjeh, and is the dried tops of the hemp plant. Take a little tobacco from that jar and mix with it, else it will be found difficult to keep it alight. These lozenges here are made from the finest Nepaul resin of the hemp, mixed with butter, sugar, honey, flour, pounded datura seeds, some opium, and a little henbane, or hyoscyamus. I prefer taking these to smoking, but, to keep you company, I will also smoke to-night. Have no fear. Smoke four of five pipe-fuls of the gunjeh, and enjoy the effect. I will see that no harm befalls you.’”

Image from “Keef” by T.W. Coakley, 1897

Even though the author, Dr. Harry Hubbell Kane, had not taken the lozenges (careful with that datura and henbane, kids, as they are very toxic and potentially deadly) and limited himself to a few pipefuls of “gunjeh”, he tripped balls (or pretended to), much as one would if one had eaten a heroic dose of hashish, as American Fitz Hugh Ludlow did in his 1857 book “The Hashish Eater”. After an extended and fanciful trip, Dr. Kane was swallowed up by the earth and appeared inside a “deep cavern” high above a “sea of fire” – in other words, he had gone to hell:

“Issuing from this mist, a thousand anguished faces rose toward me on scorched and broken wings, shrieking and moaning as they came. ‘Who in Heaven’s name are these poor things?’ ‘These,’ said a voice at my side, ‘are the spirits, still incarnate, of individuals who, during life, sought happiness in the various narcotics. Here, after death, far beneath, they live a life of torture most exquisite, for it is their fate, every suffering for want of moisture, to be obliged to yield day by day their life-blood to form the juice of the poppy and resin of hemp in order that their dreams, joys, hopes, pleasures, pains, and anguish of past and present may again be tasted by mortals.’”

I suspect Dr. Kane had exaggerated the effects of the pot in order to moralize about the evils of hash smoking, as he was a prolific anti-drug writer as well as being a practitioner of “modern” medicine. The entire article is available to read for free, online, in case anyone is interested. (2)

As well as translating a book about France into English in 1902, Dr. Kane was responsible for many drug books during his lifetime: “The Hypodermic Injection of Morphia: Its History, Advantages and Dangers” (1880), “Drugs That Enslave” (1881), “Opium-Smoking In America and China” (1882) – each of which is available to read for free online. (3)

In “Drugs That Enslave”, Dr. Kane did his best to put hashish intoxication in a bad light: 

“There are those who use hashisch steadily the year-round, as many of our countrymen use alcohol; but this is due more to moral depravity than to any special morbid craving for the substance used. Were we able to procure a thoroughly reliable extract of hemp in this country, and did physicians use it as freely, as carelessly, and in as large doses, as they are using opium, morphine, and chloral, hashisch takers would be more common.” (p. 207)

What sort of man was Dr. Harry Hubbell Kane? A search of his name in Newspapers.com reveals over 2000 mentions – mostly regarding his association with horseback riding and automobile racing clubs. But I was fortunate enough to come across an advertisement for medical service of his – a “Positive and Lasting Cure of VARICOCELE, HYDROCELE, INFLAMED BLADDER, and ENLARGED PROSTATE GLAND”. 

Here’s his advertisement, complete with his portrait, from The World, a New York City newspaper, from the 17th of November, 1897:

Apparently, curing swollen testicles was a lucrative business, as Dr. Kane lived in a very nice 4 story apartment in Greenwich Village, which I located on Google Maps: 

As well as being curious about Dr. Kane, I wondered what I could find out about the hashish smoking parlors of New York City. 

In Harper’s, Dr. Kane described taking a “Broadway car up-town, left it at Forty-second Street, and walked rapidly toward the North River” – in other words, they got off the trolley at Times Square, walked up 42nd Street west towards the Hudson River, and entered the Manhattan neighborhood of “Hell’s Kitchen”. 

The Wikipedia entry for “Hell’s Kitchen” provides many explanations for the peculiar name. This one appears to be the best of them: 

“(Hell’s Kitchen) first appeared in print on September 22, 1881, when a New York Times reporter went to the West 30s with a police guide to get details of a multiple murder there. He referred to a particularly infamous tenement at 39th Street and Tenth Avenue as ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ and said that the entire section was ‘probably the lowest and filthiest in the city.’ According to this version, 39th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues became known as Hell’s Kitchen and the name was later expanded to the surrounding streets. Another version ascribes the name’s origins to a German restaurant in the area known as Heil’s Kitchen, after its proprietors. But the most common version traces it to the story of ‘Dutch Fred the Cop’, a veteran policeman, who with his rookie partner, was watching a small riot on West 39th Street near Tenth Avenue. The rookie is supposed to have said, ‘This place is hell itself,’ to which Fred replied, ‘Hell’s a mild climate. This is Hell’s Kitchen.’”

Wikipedia supplied an image of the neighborhood, circa 1890:

Hell’s Kitchen and Sebastopol, c. 1890, photographed by Jacob Riis

A number of raids of New York “smoking parlors” appear in the news in 1895. Hashish was legal, but, apparently, keeping a parlor where you sell it was not, and one could be charged with an all-encompassing offense that also covered keeping brothels and gambling dens: “maintaining a disorderly house”. 

The New York Times, June 22nd, 1895, p. 1

There was more than one raid on a New York City “Turkish smoking parlor”, and the addresses reveal that these parlors were located in more than one New York City neighborhood. 225 West 25th St. is located in “Chelsea”, and 86 Fourth Ave. is in the Ukrainian Village. 

The Evening World, July 12th, 1895, p. 3

But what, exactly, were they smoking in these smoking parlors? Newspaper coverage of a raid on one Turkish smoking parlor on the southern edge of Midtown Manhattan reveals the answer. A “Chibouk”, by the way, is a type of Turkish smoking pipe, and, I infer, also a place to smoke such a pipe. The address was obtained in one newspaper clipping: 

Fort Worth Daily Gazette, July 7th, 1895, p. 15

And the details were obtained in another:

Chickasaw Chieftain, Ardmore, Oklahoma, August 22nd, 1895, p. 1

Just in case you are wondering, as I wondered, what a “danse du ventre” was, it’s the French term for “Belly Dancing”. As for “hash-heesh”, there were many ways to spell hashish back in the 1800s, and that was one of them. I had a look on Google Maps for 1210 Broadway, and the closest I could place it was the current location of the “A1 Watches and Jewelry” shop, located at 1212 1B Broadway, next to “Cleopatra Hair”, located at 1212 A Broadway. The building looks ancient, and is sandwiched between two other old buildings, which leads me to believe this building was around in 1895:

As for what it might have looked like inside while in use as a Turkish Smoking Parlor, we have a few clues. There was an illustration from the Illustrated Police News from 1876, captioned as a “secret dissipation of New York belles: Interior of a Hasheesh Hell on Fifth Avenue”. There’s that hellish description again – although the image doesn’t look all that hellish at all: 

Image from hashmuseum.com

Regarding the image directly above, Michael Horowitz wrote in an email; 

“Very few women were even smoking tobacco in the late 19th-century (the writer George Sand is noted as the first to smoke a cigarette in public (Paris c. 1860). But here they are, a strong presence in Persian attire in the American hashish parlours of the 1870s and 1880s.  This was a mere 35 years after the Parisian Hashish Club. The outbreak of anti-Asian racism we see today had its roots in the opium dens of the late 19th century to which Caucasian women were attracted.  The hashish parlours did not raise the same kind of alarms, perhaps because they were festive events compared to the oblivion seekers of the o-dens.

Speaking of NYC, while visiting New York City, Cindy and I stayed in an apartment just off Gramercy Park. On the other side of the small park was a gorgeous 19th century brownstone where James Harper, co-founder of Harper Bros. lived and had his office—Fitz Hugh Ludow’s publisher.  We imagine Fitz Hugh walking up the stone steps to knock on the door to drop off his latest piece of writing.   We also went to an address further downtown on Livingston St. (forget the exact street number but it is known precisely). The house is now a building that serves as a kind of small hospital.  But in front is a wrought iron gate that definitely is mid-19th century—the gate Fitz Hugh regularly opened.  Our final stop was the site of Pfaff’s restaurant and saloon on lower Broadway where the Gotham writers and journalists like Ludlow and his friends who appeared in the pages of Harper’s hung out.  Walt Whitman was a regular and sort of held court there.” 

Then I found an image of a bunch of men in a French music band named “The Tam-Tam Bollenois” smoking a homemade hookah in 1884 – just one year after the Harper’s article came out. This image came from thecannachronicles.com website – maintained by one of my Supreme Court of Canada co-appellants, Chris Clay – on a page entitled “Lost in Exquisite Intoxication, 1884”:

Image from thecannachronicles.com

Last but not least, there was an image from New York from 1895 – the year of the raids on the Turkish Smoking Parlors – from Jack Herer’s The Emperor Wears No Clothes: 

 Image from from the Emperor Wears No Clothes, 11th edition

These “hash-heesh” smoking parlors were no doubt closed down due to the demonization and stigmatization from the likes of Dr. Kane and others, who began their campaign of lies at around this time. 

A similar tract came from an 1885 pamphlet titled “A WEED THAT BEWITCHES”, from the National Temperance Society, also located in New York. The pamphlet is mostly about tobacco, but has sections on opium and “hasheesh”. We are told that; 

“Whole nations have been stimulated, narcotized, and made imbecile with this accursed hasheesh. The visions kindled by that drug are said to be gorgeous and magnificent beyond all description, but it finally takes down body, mind, and soul in horrible death.”

“A WEED THAT BEWITCHES”, National Temperance Society, 1885

In 1885, a poet named Thomas Bailey Aldrich published a book of poems, one of which was called “HASCHEESH”. It seems likely a poem inspired by a hashish overdose. The last bars go like this: 

“A terror seized upon me… a vague sense

Of near calamity. “O, lead me hence!”

I shrieked, and lo! from out a darkling hole

That opened at my feet, crawled after me,

Up the broad staircase, creatures of huge size,

Fanged, warty monsters, with their lips and eyes

Hung with slim leeches sucking hungrily.—

Away, vile drug! I will avoid thy spell,

Honey of Paradise, black dew of Hell!” (4)

Also in 1885, the term “ganja”– the Hindi term for “sensimillia” or “seedless cannabis flowers” (5) – begins to appear in newspapers, and not for the first time. But this time, the demonization, prejudice, bigotry and white supremacism is applied to the cannabis user in a big way:

“A ganja eater is a criminal of which we have no counterpart in this country. He is an Asiatic monster. We hear, no doubt, of men being ‘mad with drink;’ but their frenzy differs both in degree and kind from that which results from indulgence in the juice of the hemp. For ganja is a preparation of this herb, and, though its prediction is punishable by the laws in India, is unfortunately so easy to procure that crime from this cause is constantly occurring. Thus in the latest Indian papers we find a case of a man, brutalized by its use, stabbing right and left in a Bombay bazar, and note that the magistrate, when passing sentence, deplored the increase in this ‘most dangerous class,’ the ‘ganja eating people.’ … The opium eater is an innocuous and harmless person. He injures no one but himself; he sins, perhaps, by omission, but not by commission. The ganja eater, on the other hand, is invariably a law breaker. He becomes at once a criminal. The villainous decoction seems to have the strange power of bringing to the surface all that is vicious and bad in its most violent form. Of such men murderers and assassins are made. In the Ghazi villages it is ‘ganja’ or ‘bang,’ as the different preparations of hemp are called, which is used for the stimulation of the fanatics, who are then sent out into the world to ‘run a-muck’ and to kill and be killed ‘for the faith.’” (6)

Apart from the occasional disparaging mention in articles reprinted from foreign newspapers, and an ordinance passed in Kentucky against any person who “has, by the habitual or excessive use of opium, arsenic, hasheesh, or any drug, become incompetent to manage themselves or estates with ordinary prudence and discretion” (7), Dr. Kane’s attack on hashish – first in his book “Drugs That Enslave” and then in his article in Harper’s – mark the beginning of the anti-cannabis movement in the United States. 

Whether this was the result of a genuine mis-identifying acute toxic effects of cannabis as chronic conditions resulting from cannabis use combined with the sensationalism that sells books and magazines, or if it was just another example of the demonization and scapegoating that goes hand in hand with the divide and conquor tactics apparently inherent in the state, is not as important a question to answer as is the question of how to educate the general public about the true nature of the fraud that underlies the demonization of cannabis. For the injustices that come with raids on cannabis smoking parlors (8) – as well as the killings from botched raids, the mass incarcerations, the broken families, the destroyed lives and the many other black-market-related injustices – continue to this day. 

1) http://cocaleafcafe.com/

2) http://www.luminist.org/archives/kane_hashish_house.htm

3)The Hypodermic Injection of Morphia, Its History, Advantages, and Dangers, Based on Experience of 360 Physicians


Drugs That Enslave

Opium-Smoking in America and China



The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1885

5) “History of Cannabis as a Medicine”, Ethan Russo, from The Medicinal Uses of Cannabis and Cannabinoids, 2004, Geoffrey W. Guy, Brian A Whittle, Philip J. Robson, editors, Pharmaceutical Press, London, p.9

6) “The Ganja Eater”, The Daily Republican, Aug. 24, 1885, p.3

7) The Baltimore Sun, March 26, 1872, p. 2

8) Relax is part of a network of medical cannabis clinics that provide sealed, ventilated space for people to consume the drug. The lounge also sells snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. Last summer, it was the target of suspected arson. Quebec law permits businesses such as restaurants, shisha bars, and cigar lounges to allow indoor tobacco consumption in sealed, ventilated areas of the establishment. But when it comes to indoor cannabis consumption, the provincial Cannabis Regulation Act makes provisions only for locations such as long-term care facilities, seniors’ residences, and palliative care hospitals. The owners of Relax claim to have obtained a cigar lounge-type permit that allows them to operate and are now making plans to contest the bust in court. “We think that this was a witchhunt and the amount of effort and money that was put into it to degrade us, to put us down, was really ridiculous,” Vargas told CTV News. “I hope that this does not repeat itself because the way they came in at us was like a gang of criminals.”

‘This was a witch hunt’: Police raid cannabis lounge in Quebec, Emma Spears, Mar 04, 2020