Moving is always hell. Now imagine if a million fellow New Yorkers were also schlepping their stuff to new living quarters on the same day you were. Crazy, right? But this was a tradition in New York since colonial times, lasting until World War II.
On February 1 of every year, landlords let tenants know how much their rent increase would be, to take effect three months later. If they couldn’t afford the new price, tenants had that time to scout new digs within their budget.
With the new rent due May 1, tenants waited until that day to vacate their old premises. Moving van (pulled by horses) companies and warehouse owners jacked prices; getting around the sidewalks was a serious chore.
“Old beds and rickety bedstands, handsome pianos and kitchen furniture, will be chaotically huddled together,” The New York Times reported in 1855.
“Everybody in a hurry, smashing mirrors in his haste, and carefully guarding boot boxes from harm. Sofas that go out sound will go in maimed . . . bedscrews will be lost in the confusion, and many a good piece of furniture badly bruised in consequence.”
The May moving day custom began to die down in the 1920s, as new rent laws gave tenants increased protection, and more Manhattanites decamped for new neighborhoods in the outer boroughs.