5. Giant live green turtles were sold at the Fulton Fish Market

Wooden bins at Fulton Fish Market

Though turtle steak and turtle soup never became staples of New York City diets, they were attractive novelty dishes in restaurants of the 19th century. For sellers of the turtles, they were a profitable product. Turtles were rare and expensive. To keep the turtle meat fresh, turtles were kept alive during transportation and at the market. When they arrived at the Fulton Fish Market, the turtles were tied up at the piers, and often their mouths are tied shut because they were known to snap at and bite people who got too close. It was the responsibility of the buyer to kill the turtle before cooking it. Since green turtles could be anywhere from 15 to 350 pounds, this was not a simple task.

In 1866, after founding the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Henry Bergh brought cases against turtle sellers for their cruelty towards the animal. While none of the charges stuck, there were slight modifications to the way turtles were handled. The sale of turtles ended in the 1970s when they were certified as an endangered species.