Steve Brodie was famous for his successful leap from the Brooklyn Bridge in 1886, which provided the celebrity he needed to open his own saloon on the Bowery in New York City.
In October of 1891, Anthony Comstock first raided Brodie’s saloon and arrested him because he had displayed “pictures and literature calculated to corrupt the morals of frequenters of his place.” Comstock confiscated 118 framed pictures and a large album of “queer photos” which Brodie had bought in Paris. Brodie was fined $50 and had to forfeit his pictures.
In March of 1895, Comstock again raided Brodie’s saloon, arrested the bartender, who spent 30 days in jail, and seized another 80 pictures. Steve Brodie’s brother Tom was present and said Comstock and his assistant took, “about all the pictures we had with any women in them.” Tom Brodie asked to see Comstock’s warrant. “Does it say anything about frames?” he asked. It did not, and Comstock spent another 45 minutes removing the pictures from the frames.
Tom Brodie said Comstock also carried off an oil painting that hung over the bar, “for which Steve paid $7,500 in Boston. It was kind of a dream… it was called Tannhäuser. He was lying on a couch, and about twenty women—fairies I think they were—anyhow they were dressed like fairies—were dancing around him.”
“Tannhäuser in the Venusberg” by August von Heckel
In June, Comstock appeared before the N.Y. Excise Commission and attempted to strip Brodie of his saloon license, saying that although the pictures seized were by celebrated French artists, “they would never have been hung in Brodie’s place except to be a drawing card for the vicious.” He untied a bundle and, after the ladies present were ushered out of the room, the pictures were inspected by members of the board. By a vote of 2-1, Comstock’s charges were dismissed and Brodie got his license. Newspapers reported that Comstock was “much chagrined,” and noted “there was joy in the Bowery last night.”