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Thumb 11th_Street_Catholic_Cemetery2

 

It was a neighborhood of potent ugliness, a wasteland of rubble and rust strewn with monstrous gas tanks, and belching gasworks, pumping out noxious sulfurous fumes, the byproduct of cooking bituminous coal to produce the gas which fed the streetlights of New York. Authorities around the turn of the last century called the slum the Gas House District, and a hunchback mobster was its king.

 

A rare view of one of the last gasworks in the Gas House District circa 1938., years after Humpty Jackson's reign.

A rare view of one of the last gasworks in the Gas House District circa 1938, years after Humpty Jackson’s reign.

 

A bare-knuckled Dickensian creature, well-armed and well-read, Thomas “Humpty” Jackson and his band of colorfully nicknamed hooligans like Monahokky, The Grabber, Candy Phil, Maxie Hahn, Spanish Louie, and the Lobster Kid, terrorized the neighborhood from the ruins of an ancient cemetery that has long since vanished.

 

Thomas "Humpty" Jackson lead his turn-of-the-century gang from the 11th Street Catholic Cemetery.

Thomas “Humpty” Jackson lead his turn-of-the-century gang from the 11th Street Catholic Cemetery.

 

According to Herbert Asbury’s Gangs of New York, the cemetery was, “…bounded by First and Second Avenues and Twelfth and Thirteenth streets,” yet today, not a single headstone remains, and anyone searching for the remnants of the boneyard will be befuddled by Asbury’s erroneous directions.

 

The infamous hunchback of East 11th Street, Thomas Humpty Jackson

The infamous hunchback of East 11th Street, Thomas Humpty Jackson

 

The 11th Street Catholic Cemetery

 

Built in 1832 to replace Old St. Patrick’s overflowing graveyard on Mulberry Street, the Eleventh Street Catholic Cemetery stretched from the east side of First Avenue to Avenue A. Fifteen years, and forty thousand corpses later, tenements sprouted up around the graveyard, and the city banned burials in Manhattan, forcing the Eleventh Street cemetery to lock its gates.

11th_Street_Catholic_Cemetery

 

In 1883, the New York Times wrote,

“The old cemetery has been neglected and has become a scene of desolation. The fences have been broken by boys, and… it has become a great source of trouble to the church…” –The New York Times, 1883

 

It’s impossible to say when Humpty, who was born in 1879 according to the 1925 census, first jumped the fence of the cemetery.  After he quit the rackets and started giving interviews (hotlink), Humpty would later reminisce:

 

“Take the Gas House District… no playgrounds and no gymnasiums. Nothing for strong kids to do…but commit depredations…”—Humpty Jackson

 

And depredations he committed.

 

Humpty’s First Pinch

 

At the age of thirteen, Jackson caught his first pinch for stealing a horse blanket. For his heinous crime, he was sent to the reformatory on Wards (Now Randall’s) Island, turning the little hunchback into a lifelong cop hater. By twenty, Humpty was a professional stick-up kid, heisting grocery stores up and down the Lower East Side, which eventually landed Jackson his first holiday in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island.

 

After his release, Humpty Jackson earned his first newspaper mention for stabbing a policeman in the hand and neck, but by now the Hump was a well known character in the Gas House District, the domain of Tammany overlord Silent Charley Murphy.

 

Tammany Boss Silent Charlie Murphy employed Jackson as a key election rigger.

Tammany Boss Silent Charlie Murphy employed Jackson as a key election rigger.

Election Rigging 101:

Tammany Hall Recruits Jackson

 

The veteran election rigger immediately saw potential in the young hunchback. With the help of Big Tim Sullivan, Humpty was soon stumping for Tammany Hall. Repeat voting, ballot box stuffing, and good old Republican slugging, granted Humpty a license to steal. Humpty later bragged to Collier’s Magazine:

 

“…we’d gang the joint. Smack a couple of Republican ballot watchers over and swipe the boxes and throw them in the river.”

 

Armed robbery, assault, and vagrancy charges disappeared like magic courtesy of Tammany Hall, and with political backing, Jackson carved out a fiefdom strong enough to repel both Monk Eastman and Paul Kelly’s Five Points Gang. But the infamy brought the heat. According to the newspapers, every mugging, shooting, and petty theft in the district was the work of the Humpty Jackson gang.

 

The Battle for 11th Street

 

The tipping point came on the night of September 12, 1904. That night Humpty and his pals were lounging on the headstones in their graveyard hangout. The gangsters sat up and took notice after they spied Fredrick Keller, a former member of the gang, strolling down 11th Street.

 

The remains of the 11th Catholic Cemetery today.

The remains of the 11th Catholic Cemetery today.

 

In instant the wolves jumped him. A fist fight broke out, and one of Humpty’s goons put a revolver to Keller’s head and pulled the trigger, but the gun misfired.

 

Keller broke away and sprinted to the Police precinct on 5th Street. Seeing an opportunity to put Jackson away for good, Capt. McDermott raced to the cemetery with five plainclothesmen, Detective Ed Reardon, and a team of reservists. The small army of cops put the collar on Humpty Jackson, the Riley Brothers, and William Noble and marched them back to the precinct.

 

An Army of Mobsters

 

Suddenly an army of 30 mobsters appeared on 11th Street, a pistol shot rang out and the cops ducked for cover. They returned fire with their service revolvers and roaring gun battle erupted.

 

From the tenements, bricks and potted plants and bottles rained down on the police. Jackson pulled a hidden revolver and beamed four shots at Detective Ed Reardon, those shots would earn Humpty 2 ½ years in Sing Sing where the hunchback was treated to a regimen of: “Twelve hours a day in solitary…paddling, and thumb hanging exercises…” However, his time in the can wasn’t all bad.

 

Humpty spent the majority of his stretch reading: Herbert Spencer, Thomas Paine, Darwin, Voltaire, and Huxley. He even penned a book on police brutality. When he emerged from the big house, Humpty was smarter and tougher than ever before, but unfortunately things had changed on the sidewalks of New York.

 

Humpty Jackson on the Transformative Power of Reading

Humpty Jackson on the Transformative Power of Reading

 

When he got out of prison, Humpty headed back to his home away from home, the 11th Street Catholic Cemetery. As he began to reorganize his mob, the police, led by Detective Ed Reardon, torqued up the pressure. Police arrested Jackson on sight for vagrancy, disorderly conduct, and anything else they could pin on the hunchback.

 

The Gat in the Hat

 

To prevent the law from planting weapons on him, the ingenious mobster sewed up his pockets so that:

 

“Cops couldn’t slip a gun in a gun in my pocket and pull me in for carrying a rod…”

 

But the pressure grew, making it impossible for Humpty to steal for a living.

When Jackson opted to go strapped he,

 

“…Invent[ed] a pistol holster for my hat. I got away with that for a long time until a young cop got wise and slapped me on the nut with his night stick.”

 

Humpty Jackson often carried a pistol in his hat.

Humpty Jackson often carried a pistol in his hat.

 

Unfortunately, sewed up pockets and his secret holster did little to keep the eccentric mobster out of the papers, and Tammany’s support waned. By 1908 the Hall had backed a new tough, former light weight prize-fighter and Chinatown bouncer, Jimmy Kelly.

 

The Feud With Jimmy Kelly

 

Called the Human Pin cushion by his pals, Kelly, whose real name was Giovanni DeSalvio, was as rough-and-tumble as they came. Kelly and his Chinatown mob, opened the Folly 212 East 14th on the outskirts of Humpty’s turf, and it was clear that a bloody confrontation loomed.

Humpy Jackson's rival, Jimmy Kelly, John DeSalvio would go from gangster and nightclub owner to Tammany Hall politician.

Humpy Jackson’s rival, Jimmy Kelly. Kelly’s real name was John DeSalvio. DeSalvio would go from gangster and nightclub owner to Tammany Hall politician.

On November 1, 1908 Tammany Hall and Big Tim Sullivan symbolically backed their new goon when the Jimmy Kelly Association held a ball at Tammany Hall.

 

Enraged that Big Tim had backed his rival, Humpty stalked Kelly, his wife Stella, and his bodyguard Chink Marello to restaurant on 15th Street and 3rd Ave. When Kelly left the restaurant to get a bottle of wine, Humpty followed him to 13th Street, raised a revolver and shot the ex-prizefighter in the neck. As Kelly lie dying in a pool of blood, Humpty put another bullet in his groin for good measure. Kelly survived.

 

Humpty Goes Down

 

After the shooting of Kelly, Tammany abandoned the hunchback and his downfall quickly followed. Arrested for stealing a $1,000 seal skin coat from the Adams Express Company, Humpty was tried as a habitual criminal. Facing a life sentence, Humpty pled guilty and was sent to Sing Sing for three years.

 

Return to the Graveyard

 

When Humpty returned from the joint, he found that the world had changed. The gasworks were closing down because of the adoption of electricity, but more strikingly the 11th Street Cemetery had vanished. While he was in Sing Sing, the church sold the property and moved the remains of 5,000 bodies to section 4b of Calvary Cemetery in Queens, leaving behind the remains of 35,000 burials.

 

After going straight, Humpty and his wife Bertha opened a pet shop.

After going straight, Humpty and his wife Bertha opened a pet shop.

 

Humpty Quits the Rackets

 

With the closing of the cemetery an era had ended, and the Hump decided to go straight. Humpty later told a Collier’s reporter:

 

“…I got Tired, tired of being pinched every time somebody I never heard of did something, tired of the same old burglar racket, slugging punks and not being able to go around outside my own district.”

 

Jackson settled down, got married, opened a pet shop, and went on to a new found fame as the hunchback gunman who had quit the rackets.

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Monk Eastman, William Delaney, Gangs of New York, Crime, Monk Eastman’s Murder, Owney Madden, Paul Kelly, Paolo Vaccarelli, 50 Eldridge Street, Witty Brothers.

Location: 50 Eldridge Street

Status: Standing

 

Out of all of the silk stocking wearing gangland dandies such as Owney Madden, Paul Kelly and Biff Ellison, Monk Eastman was a bit of an anomaly. He and his knuckle dragging mob terrorized Manhattan’s Lower East Side with street brawling shenanigans and epically bad fashion. According to Gangs of New York author, Herbert Asbury:

 

“[Eastman] seemed to always need a haircut… He accentuated his ferociousness… by affecting a derby hat several sizes too small…”

 

The Suit They Found Him Dead In

In addition to the ill fitting derby and bad haircut, Lower Eastsiders rarely sighted Eastman with a shirt on and without a shoulder-mounted pigeon, presumably crapping all over the place. However, the suit police detectives found Eastman dead in told a far different story. Inside of his jacket, a tag read, “E. Eastman, October 22, 1919—No 17,434—W.B.”

 

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.

 

Monk’s Tailor

The tag belonged to the Witty Brothers, a fine clothing establishment, which catered to, “The Sort of gentlemen who recognizes the import of being well-dressed. “

 

Monk Eastman, William Delaney, Gangs of New York, Crime, Monk Eastman’s Murder, Owney Madden, Paul Kelly, Paolo Vaccarelli, 50 Eldridge Street, Witty Brothers.

 

According to the New York Times obituary of Spencer Witty, heir to the Witty clothing empire:

 

“Witty Brothers, fashioned and sold elegant men’s clothing… They used luxurious fabrics, cashmere, [and] Scottish tweeds…”—The New York Times (Click to read the article)

 

After Eastman’s murder in 1920, Henry Witty told the New York Tribune:

 

“Monk Eastman, the old time gang leader… We have made clothes for him for nineteen years. The last suit we made for him was delivered October 21, this year.” –The New York Tribune (click to read the story)

 

Perhaps the Monk was more dapper than originally thought?

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James Street Gang, Johnny Torrio, Al Capone, Frankie Yale

The territory of Johnny Torrio’s James Street Gang

Location: James Street

Before the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and Prohibition put him on the map, Al Capone received his bachelor’s degree in gangsternomics courtesy of Johnny “The Fox” Torrio, a future mafia chieftan who got his start as the leader of the James Street Gang.

A dormouse of a man with button eyes and a nose like a thimble, Torrio could only be described as one of the finest criminal mastermind’s of the 20th century, and it all started on James Street, a tiny sliver of a street that is one of the last remaining vestiges of the old Corlear’s Hook neighborhood.

Life in crime came early for Torrio. As a boy he worked in his stepfather’s illegal moonshine den at 86 James Street. In 1904, the urchin started promoting boxing matches, where he met the bantamweight fighter and gangland kingpin, Paul Kelly. Kelly, a suave racketeer whose real name was Paolo Antonini Vacarelli, captained the Five Points Gang, a mob that ran Little Italy and fixed elections for Tammany Hall.

Much of James Street was demolished during the 1940s.

Much of James Street was demolished during the 1940s.

Kelly took an immediate liking to Torrio, teaching the young gangster how to dress, speak, and steal. In return for his mentorship, Torrio founded a Five Points auxiliary called the James Street Boys to aid Kelly and the Yakey Yakes during the Eastman Wars.

From there “The Fox,” moved on the Irish controlled Brooklyn Navy Yard with the help Frankie Yale and a teenaged enforcer named Al Capone, whom Torrio introduced to the Manhattan underworld through his James Street connections. Torrio gave up his mini- New York empire when Chicago’s prostitution overlord, Big Jim Colosimo, requested Torrio’s aid to protect his Windy City whorehouses. “The Fox” left New York but always remembered his roots by importing James Streeter gunmen like Roxie Vanella (https://infamousnewyork.com/2013/09/27/the-mayor-of-james-street-robert-roxie-vanella/ ) and Frankie Yale to do his dirty work. Torrio called for Capone in 1921, and the pair went on to make gangland history.

Torrio

Johnny Torrio

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

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

Location: NW Corner of Bleeker Street and Bowery

 

The blow came suddenly and silently. Without a whisper, a whimper or a groan, Thomas “Eat ‘Em Up Jack” McManus fell face down into his derby; his skull crushed like an egg. One hardest gorillas to ever drag his knuckles down the streets of New York, the legendary barroom bouncer could realistically hold claim to the title of: Toughest Man in New York. Now he was dead.

 

In his 1905 obituary, the New York Sun wrote,

For years back “Eat-‘Em-Up” has borne all but unchallenged the distinction of being about the toughest and most brutal of all the tough and brutal Bowery gangsters.

 

Toughest Man in New York

 

Born in Boston in 1862, McManus was seemingly destined for underworld stardom like his older brother, the infamous international safe cracker, Kid McManus. However, unlike his brother, Jack earned a living with his fists from the beginning, eventually following his knuckles to New York City as a champion lightweight prizefighter.

 

Unfortunately, the prize ring proved unsuitable for McManus’s constitution, and he quickly sunk into the employ of the underworld. Alfred Henry Lewis wrote in his 1912 book, the Apaches of New York,

 

…but a liking for mixed ale and a difficulty in getting to weight had long cured him [McManus] of that [boxing].

 

Eat Em Up Jack McManus, Kid McManus, Paul Kelly, McGurk’s Suicide Hall, Chick Tricker, Kid Griffo, Five Points Gang, Gangs of New York, Apaches of New York, Tivoli, Jack Sirocco

Eat Em Up Jack McManus was killed by Sardinia Frank on the north west Corner of Bleeker Street and Bowery.

 

Barroom Bouncing At McGurk’s Suicide Hall 

 

Without boxing, Jack reverted to the only skill he knew, fisticuffs. He became a sheriff or bouncer, bringing law and order to the toughest Bowery dives and saloons in the city like the Tivoli and McGurk’s Suicide Hall. Whirling in like a Tasmanian devil with blackjacks, fists and hobnailed boots, Jack earned the nickname Eat Em Up for eating and digesting all comers. 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).

That’s the way I serve ‘em.—Eat ‘Em Up Jack McManus, NY Sun 1903

 

Paul Kelly’s Five Points Gang

The mayhem artist caught the attention of Paul Kelly, and the mobster hired Eat ‘Em Up Jack as bouncer at Kelly’s Little Naples Café and New Brighton Hall, sowing the seeds of McManus’s death.

 

One night Chic Tricker, a member of the Jack Sirocco clique, drunkenly wandered into Kelly’s club and insulted the showgirls. McManus stepped in, throwing Tricker out on his ear. During the scuffle, a challenge was issued for gats on 3rd avenue. Later that night, Eat Em Up and Tricker traded pistol shots under the shadow of the 3rd Avenue “El.” Jack put two slugs in Tricker’s leg and walked away unscathed. But Tricker swore revenge.

 

The next day Kid Griffo and Eat ‘Em Up Walked down the Bowery. Just as they reached the corner of Bleeker Street, a burly hoodlum named Sardinia Frank stepped from the shadows clutching a gas pipe wrapped in newspaper, and as the New York Sun put it:

 

 …a section of lead pipe was wrapped around the base of the skull to his bulldog chin, cracking the cranium all the way.

McManus died in Belleview Hospital calling out for his beloved wife Gertrude. He was 40

years old. Eat ‘Em Up Jack McManus’s death would kick off a gangland war between Kelly and Jack Sirocco which would close the New Brighton, leaving Kelly scampering uptown for a more “respectable” life.

 

Eat Em Up Jack McManus, Kid McManus, Paul Kelly, McGurk’s Suicide Hall, Chick Tricker, Kid Griffo, Five Points Gang, Gangs of New York, Apaches of New York, Tivoli, Jack Sirocco

Paul Kelly (right) and Eat Em Up Jack McManus (left) at the New Brighton.

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Five Points Headquarters

57 and 59 Great Jones Street

Status: Standing

 

There weren’t many places in old New York where a goon could order up a beer, eat a plate of spaghetti, and kick back and watch a bare-knuckle boxing match, except, for the Little Naples Café and New Brighton Athletic Club located at 57 and 59 Great Jones Street.

 

These two squat interconnected buildings once headquartered the Paul A. Kelly Association, an organized hoard of repeat voters, ex-pugilists, pimps, and gangland heavies otherwise known as The Five Points Gang. The mostly Irish and Italian Five Pointers controlled every hustle west of the Bowery and were the sworn enemies of Monk Eastman’s Jewish mob that dominated everything east of the Bowery.

 

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 that was above the New Brighton.

 

Paul Kelly Gangland Dandy

 

Their leader, Paul Kelly, proprietor of the combination eatery and boxing arena, was a bucket-load of contradictions. The name he went by was Irish; yet the gangster was an Italian whose real name was Paolo Antonio Vaccarelli. Well
quaffed and well spoken, Kelly played the part of the gangland dandy who could bang with the best of them.

 

According to Richard Harding Davis, Kelly was,

“exquisitely scented, wearing silk socks, silk ties to his tan shoes, with rings on his well-kept fingers…”

 

Paul_Kelly

 

But Kelly’s manicured digits didn’t fool anyone in the know. A former flyweight boxer and catch-as-can wrestler of much renown, the leader of the Five Points Gang was always willing to throw down. Like the time Kelly floored Jake Shimsky, a 6 foot, 230 pound Eastman Lieutenant, with a left hook that put the giant’s brain to sleep.

 

Spoke Five Languages

 

To have said that Kelley was smart would have been an understatement. In addition to English, he spoke Spanish, French and Italian. To take advantage of a loophole, which legalized boxing matches in privately chartered athletic clubs, he opened the New Brighton Athletic Club in 1904 in a Civil War era stable located at 59 Great Jones.

 

A Gangland Nexus Is Born

The New Brighton Athletic Club and Little Naples Cafe

 

Now free to hold bare-knuckle bouts without police interference, the customers flooded in. To feed his hardboiled clientele, Kelly opened up the Little Naples Cafe next door, and a gangland nexus was born. On any night, a hoodlum could find Chick Tricker, Louie the Lump, Kid Griffo, Rough House Hogan, 14th Street Biff Ellison, and the wrestler Leo Pardillo lounging around the bar.

 

Paul Kelly, Paolo Vaccarelli, Monk Eastman, Eat Em Up Jack McManus, Monk Eastman, Biff Ellison, Leo Pardillo, Five Points Gang

The Little Naples Cafe, 59 Great Jones St., was the headquarters of Paul Kelly’s Five Points Gang

 

Eat ‘Em Up Jack McManus

 

To keep the peace, Kelly brought in his best gorilla, the famed bar-room bouncer, Eat ‘Em Up Jack McManus, but even McManus couldn’t keep the peace, and the gunplay was regular.

 

In less than a year, Kelly’s bare fisted spaghetti kingdom began to unravel. Led by Chick Tricker, Jimmy Kelly, Jack Sirocco, and Biff Ellison, the mutinous troop of Five Pointers loaded up their gats and plotted to knockoff the boss.

 

Eat_Em_Up_Jack_McManus_And_Paul_Kelly

Paul Kelly (right) poses with bar-room bouncer Eat ’em Up Jack McManus.

 

Five Points Lightning

 

The slugs started to fly just before dawn on May 26, 1905 when words between McManus and Tricker escalated into a full blown pistol duel in font of the Little Naples.

 

Dodging and weaving from stoop to stoop, McManus blasted a few slugs into Tricker’s calf and left him for dead in the gutter, but Eat ‘Em Up Jack Should have finished the job. Days later Kelly lost his greatest strong armer, when McManus was killed by a Tricker Assassin armed with a lead pipe.

 

Jack Sirocco and Chick Tricker’s Revenge

 

Months later Jack Sirocco came looking for revenge for Tricker’s shooting, and earned a bullet in his arm. With their leadership full of lead, the Tricker Sirocco gang sent another team of torpedoes to the Little Naples the following Thursday.

 

With barking pistols in their hands, Biff Ellison and Razor Riley stormed into the Little Naples spewing bullets. The attackers caught Kelly and his bodyguard Bill Harrington completely by surprise. A shot pierced Harrington’s lung killing him instantly. Another shot knocked Kelly’s hat from his head, and bullet sliced through the sleeve of his coat.

 

As the shots rang out, showgirls dove for cover, and the lights were doused. For five minuets Kelly and his attackers traded gunfire in the darkened bar. The Little Naples and New Brighton Athletic club were closed by the police shortly thereafter. With his clubhouse padlocked, Kelly changed his name back to Vacarelli, moved uptown, and remade himself as a labor racketeer.

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