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Archive for the ‘Chinatown’ Category

Organized, politically connected and deadly, by the 1870s the gangs of New York had metastasized from leaderless hordes of criminals of the Civil War era into a cancerous pox, directed and controlled by New York’s political machine, Tammany Hall. With names like the Dead Rabbits, the Whyos, The Monk Eastmans, and The Five Pointers, gangs became a hallmark of New York politics in the early 20th Century.

 

Under Tammany Hall’s Bowery Assembly leader, Big Tim Sullivan, organized crime emanated out of the Five Points, spreading throughout the slums of Manhattan. In exchange for getting out the vote on election day- with smashed ballot boxes, repeat voters and general mayhem, gangsters could rely on Tammany’s lawyers and corrupt judges to keep them well armed and out of jail.

 

Allow this map and Gangs of New York walking tour to take you back to a time when gang warfare plagued the cobblestones of New York.

 

1 The Cradle of the Gangs: The Five Points

Mosco St.

Named for the intersection of five streets which no longer exist, the Five Point was America’s first and worst slum. Comprised of Mulberry St., Anthony St. (now Worth St.), Cross St. (now Mosco), Orange St. (now Baxter), and Little Water St. (no longer exists),  a tiny garbage packed square, known as Paradise Square, was located at the intersection of the Five Points.

 

Originally called Cross St., Mosco Street is one of the last unchanged blocks that made up the Five Points ghetto.

Originally called Cross St., Mosco Street is one of the last remaining blocks that made up the Five Points ghetto.

 

Born and raised in the Five Points, Big Tim Sullivan grew up in a Five Points saloon, despite the fact that he never drank a drop of booze in his life. As a child he became a prominent newsy and with the help of local politician Fatty Walsh, Sullivan opened a bar in the heart of the Five Points, which became regular hangout of the Whyos.

 

The Domain of the Whyos, the Corner of Mulberry Bend and Mosco Street in the old Five Points.

The Domain of the Whyos, the Corner of Mulberry Bend and Mosco Street in the old Five Points.

 

2 Mulberry Bend

Click for the complete story of Mulberry Bend

For generations, the New York underworld gathered in the Mulberry Bend, a maze of back alleys. From the Dead Rabbits and the Whyos to the Gambino Crime Family, the Bend’s horrific conditions incubated the gangs of New York.

 

5

In the 1880s, Mulberry Bend represented one of the worst slums in world. This a Jacob Riis photo of Bandits Roost. Image via the Museum of The City of New York.

 

In the 1700s, Mulberry street was named for an idyllic grove of Mulberry trees on the banks of the Collect Pond. In the early-1810s, the population of the Five Points exploded. Slaughterhouses choked the shores of the Collect and shanty towns sprouted up, turning the area into a diseased bog, forcing the city to drain and fill the pond. By the time of the Potato Famine, the Bend ranked as one of the densely populated urban areas in the world.

 

Whyos_Gang_Members_Collage

The Whyos. Top row left to right: Baboon Connolly, Josh Hines, Bull Hurley
Middle row left to right: Clops Connelly, Dorsey Doyle, Googy Corcaran
Bottom row left to right: Mike Lloyd, Piker Ryan, Red Rocks Farrell

 

A warren alleys with names such as Rag Picker’s Row and Bandit’s Roost, the underworld came to roost in the Bend’s unconventional architecture. At one point or another, the Dead Rabbits, the Roche Guards, the Whyos, The Five Pointers and the Mafia all called Mulberry Bend home.

 

All that remains of Mulberry Bend today, is a tiny sliver of land on the east side of Columbus Park.

All that remains of Mulberry Bend today, is a tiny sliver of land on the east side of Columbus Park.

 

During the Civil War, the Dead Rabbits, an Irish street gang, headquartered their gang on Mulberry Street where they battled anti-Irish nativist American Gangs like The Bowery Boys and Bill the Butcher Poole. By the 1870s, a gang called the Whyos, known for their war-cry “WHY-O”, dominated Mulberry Street and the Five Points. Formed by Dandy Johnny Dolan, a well-coiffed killer with axe blades embedded in his fighting boots, and Danny Lyons, a homicidal pimp, the Whyos became the first true organized gang on Manhattan, offering services like beatings and contract killings.

 

3 Columbus Park: The End of Mulberry Bend

Armed with nothing more than a camera, Jacob Riis explored the back alleys, saloons and rear tenements of the Five Points, documenting the squalor of the Bend and other slums. Riis published his work in a landmark text titled: How the Other Half Lives. A best seller, Riis’ book led to the demolition of Mulberry Bend and the heart of the Five Points.

 

The city demolished Mulberry Bend in 1897 and created Mulberry Bend Park which was later renamed Columbus Park.

The city demolished Mulberry Bend in 1897 and created Mulberry Bend Park which was later renamed Columbus Park.

 

In 1897, the city erected Five Points Park on the newly cleared land, hoping that the clean air and grass would reduce crime and give children a play to play. The largely Italian population of Mulberry Street later renamed the park Columbus Park in 1910.

 

4 The Tombs

125 White Street

The Tombs may be the most infamous site on Manhattan Island. Built as a holding tank for accused criminals awaiting trial in 1838, the Tombs or Halls of Justice brought law and order and a modern criminal justice system to the city.

 

Constructed in 1838 on top of the old Collect Pond, Manhattan’s Halls of Justice or Tombs was built to house prisoners awaiting trial.

Constructed in 1838 on top of the old Collect Pond, Manhattan’s Halls of Justice or Tombs was built to house prisoners awaiting trial.

 

Designed by the visionary architect John Haviland to resemble an Egyptian sepulcure, the Tombs stood in the heart of the Five Points on unstable landfill on top of the old Collect Pond. Soon after its construction, the granite prison began to sink into the waterlogged soil.

 

A pedestrian bridge that separated the men and women’s cells became known as the Bridge of Sighs because death row inmates would have to walk across this bridge to the gallows. Whyo leaders Danny Lyons and Dandy Johnny Driscoll were hanged in the Tombs in 1876.

 

Criminals called this walkway, The Bridge of Sighs, because death row inmates would have to walk across this bridge to the gallows.

Criminals called this walkway The Bridge of Sighs, because death row inmates would have to walk across this bridge to the gallows.

 

By the 1880s, the Halls of Justice packed over 400 inmates into a leaky, sinking, diseased structure. In 1902, city officials raised the old tombs, replacing it with a Norman castle tower, but a century later, the name stuck and the Tombs can still be found on White Street today.

 

5-Tombs-2

By the 1880s, the Halls of Justice packed over 400 inmates into a leaky, sinking, diseased structure. In 1902, city officials raised the old tombs, replacing it this Norman castle tower.

 

5. 5th Precinct

19 Elizabeth Street

Opened in 1882, the 5th Precinct policed the Five Points, Chinatown, and Little Italy for more than a century, battling the Irish gangs, the Italian Mafia and the Chinese tongs. Designed by The NYPD’s official architect, Nathaniel Bush, the precinct contained 12 cells for women and 16 cells for men.

 

6 The Bloody Angle

Doyers Street

Click for more on the Tong Wars

Chronicler of the Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury, described Doyers Street as:

“…a crooked little thoroughfare which runs twistingly, uphill and down from Chatham Square to Pell Street, and with Pell and Mott forms New York’s Chinatown.”–Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York

 

For generations the Chinese Gangs of New York, known as Tongs, battled for control Doyers Street’s opium dens and fan-tan games.

For generations the Chinese Gangs of New York, known as Tongs, battled for control Doyers Street’s opium dens and fan-tan games.

 

For generations the Chinese Gangs of New York, known as Tongs, battled for control Doyers Street’s opium dens and fan-tan games. The Hip Sing Tong, led by  one-man-wrecking crew, Mock Duck, ran Pell Street, while Tom Lee’s On Leongs controlled Mott. Doyers Street served as No-man’s and the rumbles earned the street the nickname, “The Bloody Angle.” The site of many gang wars and massacres, Doyers Street concealed a network of tunnels beneath the street for easy escapes from the police.

 

Doyers Street

Doyers Street

 

7 King of the Bowery:

Big Tim Sullivan’s Occidental Hotel

341 Broome Street (Now the SoHotel)

As the machine age dawned, Big Tim built an empire. He controlled the most powerful gangs in New York and made a name for himself in politics. Using the assistance of the Whyos, Monk Eastman and Paul Kelly,  Sullivan served in the New York State Assembly for 7 years, sat on the NY State Senate from 1809 to 1902, and was elected to U.S. Congress, all while controlling an illegal gambling syndicate that charged gambling parlors a fee for staying in business. From six saloons below 14th street, the members of the Sullivan clan dispensed wisdom, patronage and graft. During Thanksgiving he gave turkeys to the poor and handed out hot dinners on Christmas.

 

Now called the SoHo Hotel, the Occidental Hotel housed Tammany Hall's Big Tim Sullivan and a five year long 24/7 poker game.

Now called the SoHo Hotel, the Occidental Hotel housed Tammany Hall’s Big Tim Sullivan and a five year long 24/7 poker game.

 

In 1905, when Big Tim’s wife divorced him for his crooked and philandering ways, the Big Fella took up residence at the Occidental Hotel. Sullivan could be found 24/7 in the bar room beneath a world-famous nude ceiling fresco of the huntress Diana. According to Bowery legend, the hotel ran a poker game for five straight years without stopping.

 

Tammany Hall's King of the Bowery, Big Tim Sullivan.

Tammany Hall’s King of the Bowery, Big Tim Sullivan.

 

8 Battle of Rivington Street

Rivington and Allen

The Whyos crumbled in the 1890s and two gangs took their place. Split in half by the Bowery, the great street of pleasure, passion and depravity- the Monk Eastman Gang fought Paul Kelly’s Five Pointers for control of gambling houses, opium dens and other Bowery rackets. Monk Eastman’s army of street fighters controlled everything east of the Bowery. To the west, Paul Kelly’s Five Points Gang dominated the old Five Points and the ghettos of Little Italy. Big Tim’s patronage allowed both mobs to grow out of control, expanding into each other’s territory with explosive results.

 

9_Rivington_Street_Monk_Eastman_Paul_Kelly

The Monk Eastman and Paul Kelly gangs shot it it out under the elevated train tracks on Rivington Street.

 

On an election day in September 1903, Eastman and some henchmen out repeat voting for the Tammany ticket ran into Kelly’s men on a similar mission. Punches were thrown and Eastman vowed to return. The next day Eastman and his torpedoes dashed into a Five Point saloon and shot the joint to pieces.

 

Paul_Kelly

 

Kelly roused his mob and headed to the intersection of Rivington and Allen Streets for revenge. Kelly found Monk and a crew relaxing under the elevated train tracks. In an instant, a hurricane of lead erupted and the Battle of Rivington Street commenced. According Inspector Schmittberger of the NYPD:

 

“They shot up the town in regular Wild West style.”–NYPD Inspector Schmittberger

 

For nearly an hour, the Eastmans and the Five Pointers shot it out, bobbing and weaving under the steel pillars. It took fifty police officers armed with rifles to break up the rumble. When the smoke cleared, three men were dead and a score wounded.

 

Known for wearing a derby hat several sizes too small, Monk was never a dapper mobster.

Known for wearing a derby hat several sizes too small, Monk was never a dapper mobster.

 

The police arrested Monk under the alias, William Delaney.  As usual, Tammany hired lawyers beat the charges, but the Hall and Big Tim Sullivan distanced themselves from the uncontrollable Eastman. Monk landed in Sing Sing less than a year later.

 

 

9 Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral

263 Mulberry

Summers in Mulberry Bend could be brutal. The stifling heat and rampant diseases killed thousands every year. To beat the heat every summer, the Whyos moved a few blocks uptown in search of fresh air.

 

Old Saint Patrick's Cathedral on Mulberry Street.

Old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Mulberry Street.

 

According to Herbert Asbury Author of the Gang’s of New York:

“The Whyos maintained their principal rendezvous in Mulberry Bend…although during the summer many of them could always be found lounging in a Churchyard at Park and Mott Streets”–Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York

 

Built as New York’s first St. Patrick’s Cathedral and first Catholic cemetery, the walled Old St. Pat’s looks more like a fortress than a church. Parishioners built heavy brick walls around the grounds for protection during anti-catholic riots led by nativist gangs before the Civil War.

 

Before the Civil War, parishioners fortified St. Patrick’s Cathedral with a brick wall to protect it from anti-Catholic riots.

Before the Civil War, parishioners fortified St. Patrick’s Cathedral with a brick wall to protect it from anti-Catholic riots.

 

In the 1870’s, the Whyos took up residence haunting the graveyard. On any given night, a visitor could find Whyo members: Piker Ryan, Baboon Connolly, Goo Goo Knox and other colorfully named hoodlums.

 

During the Summer, the Whyos loafed around in Old St. Patrick’s cemetery.

During the Summer, the Whyos loafed around in Old St. Patrick’s cemetery.

 

10 McGurk’s Suicide Hall

295 Bowery

Demolished

Opened in 1893, by John McGurk, this low dancehall and brothel catered to prostitutes and female criminals such as famed thief, Sophie Lyons. McGurk, a career shanghaier, made a living luring sailors to his saloons and drugging them with chloral-hydrate with the assistance of his waiter Short-Change Charley and the ferocious bouncer and former champion pugilist, Eat Em Up Jack McManus. In time, McManus’s body became a patchwork quilt of wounds and welts. His front teeth were knocked out.  A knife scar ran across his throat from ear to ear (back before one of his ears was chewed off in McGurk’s).

 

Mcgurks

 

McGurk’s was relatively unknown until a wave of suicides hit the dance floor in 1899. Six prostitutes, tired of their hardscrabble lives, killed themselves in the bar. Ever a humanitarian, McGurk renamed the bar Suicide Hall in an attempt to capitalize on the publicity. Scores of suicide attempts followed. Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt ordered the saloon closed in 1903.

 

11 The Death of Eat Em’ Up Jack McManus

Bleecker and Bowery

Click for the complete story of Eat Em Up Jack

After the closure of McGurk’s, Eat Em’ Jack McManus moved into Paul Kelly’s full time employ as a bodyguard. One night, Chick Tricker, a member of the Jack Sirocco clique, drunkenly wandered into Kelly’s Jones Street club and insulted the showgirls. McManus stepped in, throwing Tricker out on his ear. During the scuffle, Jack put two bullets in Tricker’s leg.

 

Death of Eat Em' Up Jack McManus

Without a whisper, a whimper or a groan, Thomas “Eat ‘Em Up Jack” McManus fell face down into his derby.

 

The next day, Eat ‘Em Up Jack walked down the Bowery.  As he reached the corner of Bleeker Street, a burly hoodlum named Sardinia Frank stepped from the shadows clutching a gas pipe wrapped in newspaper (fingerprints could not be lifted from newsprint), and smashed McManus in the back of the head. McManus died in Belleview Hospital calling out for his beloved wife Gertrude. He was 40 years old.

 

12 Little Naples Cafe and New Brighton Athletic Club

57 and 59 Great Jones Street

Click for a longer story on Paul Kelly

Part bareknuckle boxing gym and part red sauce joint, the New Brighton Athletic Club and Little Naples Cafe served as the Paul A. Kelly Association headquarters, an organized hoard of repeat voters, ex-pugilists, pimps, and gangland heavies otherwise known as The Five Points Gang.

 

Little_naples_Today2

Paul Kelly’s New Brighton Athletic Club (right) and the Little Naples Cafe (left) today. Jean Michel Basquiat would later die of an overdose in the loft  above the New Brighton.

 

After the demolition of Mulberry Bend, Kelly led his gang uptown to Jones Street on the fringe of the Bowery. Kelly’s real name was Paolo Antonio Vaccarelli. The police closed the bar after a gunfight in 1905.

 

Paul_Kelly_New_Brighton_Club

 

13 Siegal’s Cafe

76 Second Avenue

Click for the complete story of Siegal’s Cafe

In the wake of the imprisonment of Monk Eastman, the Jewish elements of his mob struck out and formed a new clique centered in a small cafe on Second Avenue. Owned and operated by Big Alec Horlig and Little Louis Siegal, Siegal’s Cafe quickly became the nexus of the Jewish Underworld.

 

Now an abandoned church, Siegal’s Cafe at 76 Second Avenue was anything but holy. During the early 1900s, the Cafe was the headquarters of the jewish mob.

Now an abandoned church, Siegal’s Cafe at 76 Second Avenue was anything but holy. During the early 1900s, the Cafe was the headquarters of the Jewish mob.

 

However, the unpretentious accommodations still attracted a veritable who’s who in the Jewish mob. On any given night, a visitor might find “Jenny the Factory” Fischer, a madam and sometime prostitute who would go on to testify against Lucky Luciano and send him to prison. Big Jack Zelig, another Siegal’s Cafe habitue and heir apparent of the old Monk Eastman Gang, used the cafe as his headquarters, as did strikebreaker Dopey Benny Fein, casino tycoon Sam Paul, and a young pickpocket named Waxey Gordon. Siegal’s Cafe closed after Big Jack Zelig was put on the spot in 1912.

 

Big_Jack_Zelig

Big Jack Zelig, leader of the Jewish Mob hug his derby at Siegal’s Cafe.

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Tong War Gangs of Chinatown Map Title

Tong Wars: Gangs of Chinatown Map Click to Enlarge in a New Window
Tong Wars:
Gangs of Chinatown Map
Click to Enlarge in a New Window

1.Hip Sing Headquarters

15 Pell Street

This non-descript building is the current headquarters of the over 100-year-old Hip Sing tong. Founded in San Francisco during the gold rush, the Hip Sings were brought to New York City by Laing Yue in the 1890s. Mock Duck (see 15) would eventually become their most infamous leader. The Hip Sings still control much of the vice in Chinatown through their association with gangs like the Flying Dragons.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Dragons

 

2. Chinese Theater Massacre

5-7 Doyers Street

On August 7, 1905, Hip Sing headman, Mock Duck, ordered several of his boo how doy, or hitmen to go on a rampage. Led by his top gunman Sing “The Scientific Killer” Dock, they entered the Chinese theater and opened fire using exploding firecrackers to cover their gunshots. 4 On Leongs were killed.

Click to read a more detailed story on the Chinese Theater Massacre. https://infamousnewyork.com/2013/09/01/the-chinese-theater-massacre/

 

3.  Chinatown Tunnels Entrance

5 Doyers Street

Back around the turn-of-the-century, Chinatown was infested with a warren of tunnels that were used for smuggling, gambling, and quick getaways from the cops. 5 Doyers Street is the last accessible vestige of this tunnel network known today as the Wing Fat Shopping arcade. Oh, and by the way, they don’t like guests.

 

4. First opium den in the city

13 Pell Street

Wah Kee, one of Chinatown’s first residents, set up shop here some time around 1868. On the ground floor he sold Chinese curios and exotic foods, but upstairs was where the real action was. Along with a fan-tan gambling parlor, Kee ran Chinatown’s first opium den, which was completely legal at the time.

 

5. Tong War Peace Treaty

7-9 Mott

Following the Chinese Theater Massacre (see 2), Chinatown was in lockdown. The bombings, shootings and hatchet murders had completely disrupted vice in the district, and Tammany Hall’s Big Tom Foley stepped in to end the bloodshed. With the help of General Sessions Judge Warren W. Foster, Foley brokered a peace, making Mott Street On Leong territory, Mott Street Hip Sing territory and Doyers Street neutral ground.

To celebrate the truce, the rival gangs headed to the swankest joint in all of turn-of-the-century Chinatown, The Port Arthur Restaurant, and proceeded to get hammered. Tom Lee (see 13) supposedly guzzled 107 mugs of rice wine at the shindig.

 

6. Nom Wah Tea Parlor

13 Doyers Street

In business since 1920, the Nom Wah Tea Parlor is the closest you’ll get to authentic early 20th century dim sum. The restaurant has nothing to do with crime or tongs, but if you’re touring the Bloody Angle (see 8) be sure to give the traditional eggrolls a try.

 

7. Mike Salter’s Saloon

12 Pell Street

One of Big Tom Foley’s chief election captains, Mike Salter ran a gang that included Jack Sirocco and Chick Tricker from this ragtime saloon named The Pelham Café. Irving Berlin worked here as a singing waiter, and under the threat of a beating, Salter forced him to write his first song, launching Berlin’s music-making career. Upstairs, Salter ran a multiple story opium den managed by Big Mike Abrams.

Click to read more about Mike Salter’s Pelham Café https://infamousnewyork.com/2013/08/12/mike-salters-pelham-cafe-birthplace-of-irving-berlin/

 

8. The Bloody Angle, Doyers Street

Sandwiched between Pell and Mott, Doyers Street has one of the most crooked histories in town. Neutral ground for the feuding On Leong and Hip Sing Tongs, Doyers has been the site of more than one full-scale kung-fu rumble, earning it the nickname, “The Bloody Angle.”

 

9. On Leong Headquarters

83-89 Mott Street

This awe-inspiring pagoda towering over Chinatown is the current headquarters of the hundred-year-old On Leong Tong. Led by Tom “The Mayor of Chinatown” Lee (see 13), the tong still presides over much of the vice in Chinatown today trough the use of gangs like the Ghost Shadows. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_Shadows

 

10. Bow Kum Murder

17 Mott

In 1882, the United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, a law deliberately designed to artificially limit the number of Chinese women in America. By 1890, less than 3.6 percent of all Chinese residents of America were female, a drastic sex imbalance that would lead to many Tong wars, such as the case of Bow Kum, a Chinese slave girl purchased at auction in San Francisco for $3,000 by Hip Sing member Low Hee Tong.

After Christian missionaries freed Bow Kum from slavery, she traveled to New York and married Tchin Len, a farmer who also happened to be a member of the On Leongs. When Low Hee caught up with his expensive ex-wife, he demanded her back, the On Leongs refused, and the tongs went to war. On August 15, 1909, a Hip Sing hatchetman slipped into Len’s apartment at 15 Mott Street and hacked Bow Kum to death, instantly kicking off one the bloodiest tong struggles.

 

11. 5th Precinct

19 Elizabeth Street

Opened in 1882, the 5th Precinct has policed Chinatown for more than 100 years, raiding opium dens, busting up fan-tan games, and bringing justice to the tongs. Designed by NYPD sergeant and architect Nathaniel Bush, the precinct contained 12 cells for women and 16 cells for men.

 

12. The Death of Funny Man Ah Hoon

10 Chatham Square

During the Bow Kum War, the Hip Sing Tong posted a public death threat against the On Leong comedian Ah Hoon. Apparently Hoon’s act of skewing the Hip Sings had pissed off the gangsters for the last time. On December 30, 1909, two patrolmen from the 5th precinct protected Hoon during his act at the Chinese Theater and escorted him though the Chinatown tunnels to his home.

The cops left him with a warning not to leave his room before they left him for the night, but a thirsty Hoon ignored their warning and opened his door for a glass of water. Hip Sing gunmen waiting in the shadows opened fire killing him instantly.

 

13. The Mayor of Chinatown’s Home, Tom Lee

18 Mott

People called him the Mayor of Chinatown and for good reason. Tom Lee was the headman of the On Leong Tong, controlling much of the gambling, prostitution, and opium in Chinatown. His power was so great that Tammany Hall politician Big Tom Foley made him a city sheriff. He lived here at 18 Mott Street for much of his life.

 

14. Wing Fat Mansion: Chinatown Tunnels

7 Chatham Square

Built in 1920, this condominium’s lobby is the exit to the Chinatown tunnels. They really, really, do not like visitors.

 

15. Mock Duck Strikes Again

23 Mott Street

One of the most vicious gunmen in Chinatown, Mock Duck was a gangster known for going about the streets armed with two revolvers, a hatchet, and a suit of chain-mail armor.  He was tried three times for murdering a tailor here, but he was never convicted.

 

16. The Big Flat

96-98 Mott Street and 9 Elizabeth Street

Demolished

The Big Flat started with the greatest of intentions. It was supposed to be a model for the future housing of the poor. Built as the first model tenement, the building was eventually devoured by the people it hoped to save, becoming one gigantic opium den. On December 8, 1884, detectives from the 5th Precinct raided the building. Fifteen people were arrested including Tom Lee’s (see 13) nephew.

If you think I’m missing a good map point that I can include, let me know!

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Bright Stage With Red Velvet Theater Curtains

Location: 5-7 Doyers Street

Status: Standing

Not so much as the faintest outline of a smile crossed the lips of the stone faced killers of the Hip Sing Tong as they strutted through the fog of cigarette smoke clogging the aisles of the old Chinese Theater.

Reverberating gongs and humming Chinese fiddles cut through the gasping audience who had no idea that they were about to become part of a massacre in the unlikeliest of places. The Chinese Theater was one of the few neutral territories in New York’s Chinatown and according to the New York Sun:

…the Chinese Theater has been neutral ground, and no matter how many fights and gunplays…it was always safe for all Tong men to go to the theater and burry the hatchet while watching the show. (Click here to read the article) 

Chinese Theater, 5-7 Doyers Street, Mock Duck, Hip Sing Tong, On Leong Tong, Tong War

The Chinese Theater was the site of an On Leong Massacre.

Flash and Fire

Suddenly, a Hip Sing gunman pressed the glowing end of a cigarette to a fuse attached to a thick rope of firecrackers. White smoke and sparks hissed from the fuse, as the hatchet-man hurled the detonating explosives into the crowd.

The crackling blasts were a signal for the Hip Sing gunmen to open fire. Pulling revolvers from their brown cloaks, the boo how doy, or Tong hitmen, started pumping bullets into the designated seating area of the rival On Leon Tong.

Bullets ripped through the On Leongs. Blood splashed the elaborate Chinese murals on the walls, and by the time Patrolman John Young entered the empty, burning theater, Lee Yuck, Yu Yuck, Ong Smg, and We Yu Sing, all members of the On Leong Tong, were dead.

Chinese_Theater

The Chinese Theater on Doyers Street remained neutral ground in the Tong Wars until the Hip Sings attacked the rival On Leongs on August 7th, 1905.

The Scientific Killer

Mock Duck

Mock Duck, the leader of the Hip Sings, placed himself in a police precinct at the time of the shooting for an unusual alibi.

The Chinese Theater Massacre was the work of Sing “The Scientific Killer” Dock, a veteran Tong-warrior imported from the Wild West by Hip Sing headman, Mock Duck to engineer the massacre on August 7th of 1905.

Realizing that Mock Duck would be fingered for the crime, the Tong leader set up the perfect alibi. According to Newspaper reporter Bruce Grant and former Tong headman Eddie Eng Ying Gong’s book Tong War!:

The first person the police thought of as responsible for this wholesale shooting was Mock Duck… They found him at the police station, arguing with the precinct Captain for locking up some men found gambling in his store… [and] The Captain had to admit that Mock Duck was there when the shooting was reported…

The crime was never solved.

Chinese_Theater_Today

The Chinese Theater today.

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Mike Salter. Pelham Cafe

12 Pell Street

Status: Standing

Nestled among the steaming chop suey joints and smoldering opium dens of turn of the last century Chinatown, there was a dingy saloon that spilled ragtime piano into the moonlight.

On any given night, the bar played host to a packed crowd of millionaires and murders, pickpockets and tourists, all on account of The Professor on the piano and a seventeen year old singing waiter named Izzy Baline, who would one day be known as Irving Berlin.

Mike Salter's Pelham Cafe. Birthplace of Irving Berlin.

12 Pell Street today. The site was once home to Mike Salter’s election rigging gang. The ragtime piano saloon was the birthplace of the Irving Berlin.

 

The place was The Pelham Café, headquarters of the unbelievably politically incorrectly nicknamed Nigger Mike Salter, a Russian-Jewish gangster. The papers called Mr. Salter the uncrowned prince of Chinatown, and the prince had his hands in everything: prize-fights, dice games, opium parlors, and most of all, politics. He was rumored to have killed ten men on the road to becoming Big Tom Foley’s chief election captain, and Salter’s specialty was getting out the vote.

 

The House of a Hundred Entrances

 

False registration, ballot box stuffing, and good old fashioned repeat voting earned Salter a special place in the heart of Tammany Hall. As a reward in 1904, the Hall permitted him to open a saloon in the Chinatown vice district in a tenement known as the house of a hundred entrances located at 12 Pell Street.

Salter spared no expense decorating the joint. Ivory inlaid teak furniture filled the front room. Red burlap wallpaper, framed by gold paint, lined the walls. Sawdust covered the floors, and a dense, ever-present fog of bluish cigar smoke hung above the bar, a bar that sat the A-list of the New York sporting set.

 

A Den of Ragtime and Vice

 

Characters like Big Mike Abrams, Chuck Connors, Staten Island Sally, and Hoboken Harriet, wined, dined, and danced the night away. At the bar, Sulky, a homicidal loanshark that kept a tidy ledger, served brews to gangland’s finest. Part time pugilist and full time gangster, Jack Sirocco, and his chief gorilla, Chick Tricker, could be found there on the regular.

In the back room, the Professor, “Nick” Nicholson manned a tinpan piano while Izzy the singing waiter belted out raunchy versions of hit songs that kept Chinatown abuzz.

 

Mike Salter Pelham Cafe Irving Berlin

Mike Salter’s Pelham cafe was located at 12 Pell Street in the heart of the old Five Points district.

 

Nobility Visits The Pelham

 

Word spread of Izzy’s musical talents, and Chuck Connors guided legions of celebrity slummers through the saloon’s double doors. John Jacob Astor, Sir Thomas Lipton (of tea fame), and August Belmont all came to sample the hullabaloo, but nothing could top the visit by Prince Louis of Battenberg, a Rear Admiral in the British Navy and the fourteen reporters following him.

Before leaving the prince remarked to Izzy:

I have had a delightful time, not dreariness, not weariness, and not one bit lonesome.

 

Ludwig_Alexander_von_Battenberg

Prince Louis of Battenberg.

 

When the prince attempted to tip Izzy, the singing waiter waved away the coin, exclaiming:

No, sir, it was my honor to sing.

On the Prince’s way out, Izzy and the orchestra of banjos, coronets, and fiddles stuck up a ragtime version of God Save the King.

 

The Making of Irving Berlin

By this point Salter knew he had something. Inspired by booze, he badgered Izzy and The Professor into writing a song because of the success of “My Mariucci Take a Steamboat”, a ditty written in a rival saloon on Doyers street.

 

 

The result of their collaboration was: “Marie from Sunny Italy.” The effort earned Izzy a whopping thirty-seven cents; but more importantly, the sheet music listed the lyricist as I. Berlin, and Irving Berlin was born.

 

IrvingBerlin

 

Berlin later reminisced:

It was an important song, though, because it did get me out of Chinatown.

 

However, Salter’s success was short lived. In 1907, the police arrested The Prince of Chinatown on charges of false voter registration. Marshals closed down his bar, and Salter skipped bail and skidooed off to Canada for three years. Berlin wouldn’t see his boss again until 1922, when he came to pay his respects at Salter’s Funeral.

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