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Hart-Island-Prison-Keep-Off-New-York

Location: Northeast Bronx

Status: Active Prison

 

At northernmost tip of the Bronx an uninhabited island conceals the bodies of over one million lost souls. Known as Hart Island, the mile long rock served as a prison and burial ground stretching back to the Civil War.

 

Situated at the perilous junction of the East River and the Long Island Sound, Harts Island juts out into the mouth of a treacherous nautical passageway known as Hellgate. Known for its swirling currents and jagged rock formations, the waterway ranks as one of the world’s most perilous shipping lanes. The swift current and isolation made the island a choice location for nefarious behavior in early New York.

 

Ruins on Hart Island, a NYC prison and potter's field.

Ruins on Hart Island, a NYC prison and potter’s field.

 

Bare Knuckle Boxing Island

 

By the mid 1800s, Hart Island became a prime tourist destination for every rogue and scoundrel in town when City officials banned boxing. Overnight, the ban turned the island into one of New York’s première pugilism venues.

 

On April 20, 1842, James “Yankee” Sullivan and Englishman Billy Bell slugged it out for 24 bloody bare-knuckle rounds. Over 6,000 fans, including Yankee Sullivan’s pal Bill the Butcher Pool, sailed to the island to cheer on Sullivan. One newspaper joked that the city’s crime rate went down that day. The New York Daily Express commented:

 

“A gang of loafers and rowdies went out of the city yesterday to see a fisticuffins.” –The New York Daily Express, 1842

 

Yankee Sullivan, a close friend of Bill The Butcher Poole, boxed on Hart Island

Yankee Sullivan, a close friend of Bill The Butcher Poole, boxed on Hart Island

 

With a flourish of lefts, rights and hooks, Yankee Sullivan pummeled Bell and took home the $300 prize. By the time of the Civil War, fighters regularly battled on this desolate stretch of land, but the Union spoiled the fun when they realized the island’s usefulness following a rash of professional bounty jumping, the City’s newest crimewave.

 

Bounty Jumpers

 

During the Civil War draft of 1863, the wealthy could pay a bounty for someone to fight in their place. Criminals, known as bounty jumpers, moved in on practice, signing up to fight, collecting the payment, and then disappearing only to sign up for another bounty.

 

To contain the bounty jumpers, New York’s Provost Marshal purchased Hart island for $75,000 and transformed the island into an inescapable bootcamp. Over 50,000 troops were trained on the site. Over the next few years, units from all over the eastern seaboard mustered in the escape proof military base.

 

Civil War Prison

 

By 1864, General Henry Wessels, the provost marshal commanding the atoll, advocated the use of the island as a prisoner of war camp. In April of 1865, the Union crammed the worst confederate scoundrels onto the northern tip of the island. A stout twelve-foot stockade and roving boat patrols kept escapes to a minimum, and only four POWs attempted to make a swim for freedom. By the end of the month, the Civil War had ended and over 3,000 prisoners were jammed into four tiny yards that slept two and three to a bed.

 

Civil War ruins on Hart Island surrounded by barbed wire.

Civil War ruins on Hart Island surrounded by barbed wire.

 

Predictably, cholera erupted and swept through the camp killing seven percent of its population. Civil War historians generally agree that the site was the Union’s last and worst prison camp. Following the conclusion of hostilities, many Confederates lingered on the island for months after the war until they swore an oath of allegiance.

 

Hart-Island-Smoke-Stack

 

City Jail and Potter’s Field

 

After the war, New York City purchased the island in 1869 for $75,000 and converted the camp into a city jail and a potter’s field for the burial of individuals who could not afford a proper funeral. The phrase potter’s field derives from Matthew 27:3-8 in the New Testament. The Bible states,

 

“It is not right to deposit this in the temple treasury since it is blood money. After consultation, they used it to buy the potter’s field as a cemetery for foreigners.”–Matthew 27:3-8

 

Since the 1869, correction officials have shuttled convicts from Blackwell’s Island and later Rikers Island to City Island in the Bronx where the prisoners board a ferry that would transport them to the island of the dead. Hart Island remains an active prison and burial ground until this day, and the prisoners still carry out the ghoulish work for 30 cents an hour.

Hart Island is an active NYC prison. Prisoners named the Ghoul Squad bury bodies in mass graves.

Hart Island is an active NYC prison. Prisoners named the Ghoul Squad bury bodies in mass graves.

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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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Thumbnail_Siegals_Cafe_Jack_Zelig

Address: 76 Second Avenue

Status: Abandoned Church

 

In the early 1900s, Siegal’s Cafe was the nexus of the the Jewish underworld. In Siegal’s gonifs (Yiddish for thieves) and shtarkers (Yiddish for tough guys) planned heists while macs (pimps) and their girls drank and brawled the night away. Now an abandoned church, 76 Second Avenue was anything but holy.

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.

 

Who’s Who in The Jewish Mob

 

Packed with gangsters, pimps, prostitutes, opium fiends, pickpockets, strike breakers, con men and their female companions of the night, Siegal’s was a rough place indeed. Owned and operated by Big Alec Horlig and Little Louis Siegal, Siegal’s was wall to wall noir with a 10 table restaurant in the front and a hole-in-the-wall casino in the back. Big Alec and Little Louie stored an arsenal of pistols and shotguns and straight razors behind the bar for rumbles with the Chinatown based Chick Tricker and Jack Sirocco mob.

 

Chieftan of the Jewish mob, Big Jack Zelig, hung his hat at Siegal’s cafe, 76 Second Avenue.

Chieftain of the Jewish mob, Big Jack Zelig, hung his hat at Siegal’s cafe, 76 Second Avenue.

 

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. Husband Wife pickpocket team Boston and Tillie Meyer and one woman crime wave Bessie London, “the cleverest booster gun-mol in the world.” Big Jack Zelig, another Seigal’s Cafe habitue and heir apparent of the old Monk Eastman gang, used the cafe as his headquarters, as did strikebreaker Dopey Benny Fein and casino tycoon, Sam Paul.

 

Dopey Benny Fein and Waxey Gordon

 

Monahickey of the Humpty Jackson gang played poker cafe’s all night games along with a young pickpocket named Irving Wexler. Wexler was so stealthy that it was said he waxed the wallets he swiped. The nickname stuck, and Waxey Gordon joined Benny Fein’s mob of gorillas in Seigal’s cafe and went on to make millions during prohibition. Jewish private detective, Abe Schoenfield had this to say about Waxey in 1917:

 

“A gangster and a tough man…His notorious deeds would fill many pages…He worked with Dopey Benny and was mixed up in  everything the Dope was interested in.”- Private Investigator, Abe Schoenfield, 1917

 

Dopey Benny Fien, Jewish labor Slugger.

Jewish labor slugger Dopey Benny Fein.

 

Brother Shamus Schoenfield

 

Jewish private investigator Abe Schoenfield recorded much of what we know about Siegal’s Cafe and its denizens. Hired by the New York Kehillah (Jewish community), the gumshoe went undercover, documenting Jewish crime rings, prostitution houses and gambling establishments from 1912 to 1917. Shoenfield was no fan of Siegal’s. He wrote he’d like to:

 

“Plant a fourteen-inch gun and shoot the damn basement and its hord of carrion flesh into perdition.”–Private Investigator, Abe Schoenfield

 

Despite his hatred of Sigal’s cafe, the detective maintained the highest opinion of Big Jack Zelig, the Jewish Mobs’ shining knight.

 

The regulars at Seigal’s: 1 Casino tycoon Sam Pal. 2 Bald Jack Rose, the man who brought down Zelig. 3. Big Jack Zelig

The regulars at Seigal’s: 1 Casino tycoon Sam Paul. 2 Bald Jack Rose, the man who brought down Zelig. 3. Big Jack Zelig

 

Big Jack Zelig And The Boys of the Avenue

 

Big Jack Zelig, leader of the notorious Boys of the Avenue hung his derby at Siegal’s, the unofficial headquarters of his gang: The Boys of the Avenue. Zelig’s ace cokehead triggermen, Lefty Louis and Whitey Lewis, could be found on the regular when they weren’t blasting people or breaking spinal columns for fun and profit. After nights of undercover work, Schoenfield became enamored with the deadly Zelig. He wrote:

 

“Zelig cleared the East Side of Italians who were wont to hold up stuss houses and legitimate places. He cleared the east side of Italians who could be seen walking through the streets with Jewish girls whom they were working into prostitution. He prevented more holdups and other things of a similar nature during his career than one thousand policemen.”–Abe Schoenfield.

 

Jack Zelig's cocaine addled triggermen, Lefty Louie and Gyp the blood, gunned down Herman Rosenthal in the murder of the century.

Jack Zelig’s cocaine addled triggermen, Lefty Louie and Gyp the blood (seated), gunned down Herman Rosenthal in the murder of the century.

 

Despite Zeligs gallantry and reputation, forces outside of the Jewish Underworld were moving to put him on the spot. Set to testify in the Herman Rosenthal murder case, Zelig strutted out of Siegal’s cafe and jumped on a streetcar headed for his doom. Just as the trolley passed Thirteenth Street a gunman hopped on the running boards and fired into Zeligs head, killing him instantly. Without Zelig, Siegal’s fell from popularity and eventually closed.

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The Death of Albert Anastasia Featured Image Park Central Barbershop

Address:870 7th Avenue

Status: Starbucks  

Now a Starbucks like everything else in New York City, the old barbershop in the Park Central Sheraton Hotel may be one of the most infamous spots in Manhattan. The Park Sheraton hosted two of Manhattan’s most notorious mob hits. On November 4th, 1928, Arnold Rothstein walked into the Park Central’s front door and few hours later he spilled out of the service entrance with a bullet in his gut (click to read the Death of Arnold Rothstein). 29 years later, the Park Central would see blood again, but this time in its barbershop.

 

Two hitmen rubbed out Albert Anastasia in the Park Central Sheraton Hotel located at 870 7th Avenue.

Two hitmen rubbed out Albert Anastasia in the Park Central Sheraton Hotel located at 870 7th Avenue.

Albert Anastasia’s Last Shave

 

At 10:30 A.M., October 25, 1957, Albert Anastasia, the highlord executioner of the mob and retired CEO of Murder Inc., strutted into Grasso’s Barber shop in The Park Sheraton Hotel with his pint sized godson and protege, Vincent Squillante. The duo plopped down into barber chairs (now in the Mob Museum) and ordered shaves and haircuts, unusual behavior considering a massive mob war had just been averted.

 

The old barbershop in the Park Central Sheraton Hotel is now a Starbucks like everything else in New York City. Death of Albert Anastasia

The old barbershop in the Park Central Sheraton Hotel is now a Starbucks like everything else in New York City.

 

Anastasia nearly went to the mattresses five months earlier by declaring war on Vito Genovese for an attempted rubout of Frank Costello (Click to read the story about Frank Costello). After threatening scorched-earth revenge, The Highlord Executioner had assurances from the Five Families that there would be no bloodshed. According to Joseph Bonanno:

 

“…Anastasia and Genovese met at a select dinner gathering… Albert and Vito exchanged accusations and made counter charges. They clarified and rationalized their positions. But at last, though reluctantly, they renounced going to war against each other. The rest of us raised our glasses in a toast for peace. Albert and Vito kissed each other on the cheek.” – Joseph Bonanno, Man of Honor

 

Now at the apex of his power, Anastasia sat back and let his barber cover his face with piping hot towels. The bad blood had coagulated and Genovese could be trusted, or so Anastasia thought. According to Bonanno, Albert finally conquered his explosive temper. He had matured, and it would cost him his life.

 

The Trifecta: Gambino, Genovese, Lucchese

 

Rather than blood feuding with Genovese, Anastasia spent the next few months expanding his empire into Cuban casinos with Santos Trafficante and built a mansion in Fort Lee., while Genovese maneuvered to overthrow the CEO of Murder Inc.

Genovese and Lucchese crept through the underworld seeking tacit approval for the death of Anastasia. They contacted Meyer Lansky and wooed Carlo Gambino, Anastasia’s underboss, to set up Anastasia’s downfall.

 

The Missing Bodyguard

 

For a man who dealt in death his entire life, Al Anastasia threw caution to the wind. Arrested for homicide six times with diverse weapons which ranged from ice picks to revolvers, Anastasia perfected the unsolvable mob hit and the “one way ride”.

 

Squillante

Anastasia’s protege, Vincent Squillante survived the barbershop attack.

 

Despite the homicidal resume, Anastasia had gotten lax. On the day of his assassination, his bodyguard and chauffeur, Anthony Copolla, was nowhere to be found. Copolla dropped Anastasia off at the barbershop, parked the Chevy in a lot and never returned. Even more unthinkable, the mobster took a barber chair with his back facing the door. A setup loomed and the new mature  Anastasia missed the tell-tale signs.

 

The Barbershop Quintet

 

The attack was a classic mob hit. Two identically dressed gunmen hidden beneath aviator sunglasses, fedoras, and scarves wrapped around their faces walked into the hotel lobby. A wheelman and lookout in the lobby were waiting for them outside.

 

DSCN0802

The renovated lobby of the Park Central Hotel. The door into the barbershop (now Starbucks has been removed).

 

Entering from the lobby, the gunmen walked around a partition which screens the shop’s chairs and walked directly to Chair No. 4, taking aim at Anastasia’s back. One hitman strode to the left of Anastasia and pushed aside the barber with the muzzle of his gun. The other killer strode to Anastasia’s right. Suddenly, they opened fire with their .32 and .38 caliber revolvers.

Five bullets tore into the mafia chieftain. Dazed, Anastasia lunged at his own reflection in the mirror before collapsing into a heap of bloody towels. The hit squad fled through the lobby sparing both the barber, and Squillante, Anastasia’s protege, who yelped, “Let me outta here!”

Albert Anastasia was gunned down in the Park Central Hotel.

Albert Anastasia was gunned down in the Park Central Hotel.

Who Murdered Anastasia?

 

The police never apprehended the mob hitmen and the crime remains unsolved. According to New York magazine, a police informant named Sidney Slater claimed Crazy Joe Gallo bragged that the rubout was the handywork of his hit team. According to New York Magazine, Crazy Joe remarked:

 

“From now on Sidney… You can just call the five of us the barbershop quintet.” New York Magazine, 1972- The Mafia at War.

 

Unsanctioned by the Mafia Commission, the hit squad consisted of Crazy Joe Gallo, Joseph Gioielli, Carmine Persico, Albert Gallo and an unidentified co-conspirator.

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mulberry-bend

Address: Mulberry Street Between Worth and Bayard Streets

Status: Partially Demolished in 1897 Now Columbus Park

 

A maze of back alleys and hidden passageways, the Mulberry Bend on Mulberry Street was a gathering place for generations of New York’s underworld. From the Dead Rabbits to the Gambino Crime Family, the Bend’s horrific conditions served as an incubator for the gangs of New York. Today, only a tiny sliver of this infamous neighborhood still exists.

 

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.

 

According to 19th century social reformer Jacob Riis:

“Where Mulberry street crooks like an elbow within hail of the old depravity of the Five Points, is “the Bend” foul core of New York’s slums.”–Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives

 

Mulberry Street was the aorta that pumped life though the slums of the Five Points. Located between Worth and Bayard Streets, The Mulberry Bend was a place where the poorest of the poor scrambled to survive. A home for the unwanted and unwelcome, the street existed as a multi-racial, multi ethnic, polyglot community, unplanned and predating the city’s grid system.

 

The Mulberry Bend. 1)Ragpicker’s Row 50 ½ Mulberry Street 2) Bandits Roost 59 ½ Mulberry Street. 3) Bottle Alley 47 Baxter Street.

The Mulberry Bend. 1)Ragpicker’s Row 50 ½ Mulberry Street 2) Bandits Roost 59 ½ Mulberry Street. 3) Bottle Alley 47 Baxter Street.

From Country Lane to Urban Slum

 

In the days before the American Revolution, the street was named for a grove of Mulberry trees on the banks of the Collect Pond, one of Manhattan’s freshwater reservoirs. The Pond’s marshlands forced engineers to route the country lane in a west to east bend, which would become Mulberry Bend.

 

By 1810, Mulberry Street became urbanized. Heavy industry congregated around the Collect Pond. Slaughterhouses, potters and blacksmiths choked the shores of the Collect, while raw sewage from the slums of Mulberry Street ran into the water, transforming the pond into a polluted bog.

 

The freshwater Collect Pond quickly became a toxic bog. It was drained in 1817 and became the Mulberry Bend.

The freshwater Collect Pond quickly became a toxic bog. It was drained in 1817 and became the Mulberry Bend.

 

In 1817 the City Council drained the pond by digging a canal, which still runs under Canal Street today. The city then filled and graded the empty pond and Mulberry bend was born.

 

Street was a gathering place for generations of New York’s underworld. Image via Museum of the City of New York

Mulberry Street was a gathering place for generations of New York’s underworld. Image via Museum of the City of New York

The Bend

 

By the time of the Potato Famine, the Bend ranked as one of the densely populated urban areas in the world. For most of the 1800s the Bend’s population consisted of Irish immigrants and free African Americans, but by the 1880s an onrush of Italian overtook the squalid streets. Day and night on the bend, peddlers hawked stale bread, questionable meats and stolen goods.

 

The slums of Mulberry Bend in the heart of the Five Points. Image Via the Museum of the City of New York.

The slums of Mulberry Bend in the heart of the Five Points. Image Via the Museum of the City of New York.

 

Squeezed by landlords and forced to live in apartments crammed well beyond capacity, diseases wracked the neighborhood annually, accumulating an astronomical infant mortality rate. In 1888, over 3,000 infants died on Mulberry Street before reaching 6 years of age.

 

Mulberry Bend was the epicenter of incredible poverty. Image via the Museum of The City of New York.

Mulberry Bend was the epicenter of incredible poverty. Image via the Museum of The City of New York.

 

The poorest in the Bend, lived and worked in maze of back alleys stretching over to Baxter (then Orange St.) Street. With few options and little hope, it’s no wonder the denizens of the Bend’s back alleys turned to a life of crime.

 

The Mulberry Underground

 

A warren of hidden passageways and back alleys, with insidious names such as Rag Picker’s Row, Bandit’s Roost and Dynamite Alley, the underworld utilized the ramshackle architecture of the Bend to their advantage, hiding from both the police and sanitary inspectors. According to Jacob Riis:

 

“The whole district, is a maze of narrow, often unsuspected passageways-necessarily, for there is scare a lot that has not two, three, or four tenements upon it, swarming with unwholesome crowds.”–Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives

 

Rag Pickers, the lowest echelon of New York society, congregated in Rag Picker’s Row, another of the Bend’s enclaves where they would collect their rags scavenged from the city’s trash. Nearby at 50 ½ Mulberry Street, visitors could find Bandit’s Roost, a favorite haunt of murderers and thieves dating back to the antebellum period.

 

Bottle Alley. Image Via Museum of the City of New York.

Bottle Alley. Image Via Museum of the City of New York.

A Lineage of Crime

 

The Dead Rabbits, the Roach Guards, the Whyos, The Five Pointers and eventually the Mafia all called Mulberry Bend home. During the Civil War, the Dead Rabbits, an Irish street gang,  headquartered their gang on Mulberry Street, where they committed many depredations during the Draft Riots. By the 1870s, a gang called the Whyos, known for their call “Why-o”, dominated Mulberry Street and much of the Five Points. Naturally, the warrens of Mulberry Bend became their homeland. According to Herbert Ashbury:

 

“The Whyos maintained their principal rendezvous in Mulberry Bend, slightly north and east of the Five Points proper…”–Herbet Ashbury, Gangs of New York

 

5

Bandits Roost. Image via the Museum of The City of New York.

 

As demographics changed around the turn of the century from Irish to Italian, the Mafia emerged as lords of the Bend, but their reign would not last long. Appalled by the horrid conditions, the infant mortality rate and the rampant murder, photo-journalist Jacob Riis declared war on the slums with an unknown technological advancement, the camera.

 

Jacob Riis: Photo-Reformer

 

Armed with nothing more than his camera, Riis explored the back alleys, saloons and rear tenements, 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.

 

Photo journalist and social reformer, Jacob Riis, revealed the horrors of The Mulberry Bend.

Photo journalist and social reformer, Jacob Riis, revealed the horrors of The Mulberry Bend.

 

The End of Mulberry Bend: Columbus Park

 

In 1897, the city completely demolished Mulberry Bend, except for a tiny sliver of land. In its place, the city erected the Five Points Park, hoping that the clean air and grass would reduce crime and give children a play to play. The largely Italian population of Mulberry Street renamed the park Columbus Park in 1910.

 

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.

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John Gotti's Ravenite Social Club

Address: 247 Mulberry Street

Status: Shoe Store http://cydwoq-ny.com/

 

On first glance, 247 Mulberry Street looks like nothing more than another high-end boutique in NoLita, but the cracked tiled floors of the CYDWOQ shoe store offers a glimpse back to the days when the mob ruled New York. Once a mafia nerve center entrenched in the core of Little Italy, the Ravenite Social Club hosted the Anastasia and later Gambino Crime Family for 66 years.

 

ravenite

 

The Knights of Alto Social Club

The mafia social club started life in 1926 as the Knights of Alto Social Club. A regular den of thieves, patrons included Lucky Luciano, Carlo Gambino, Albert Anastasia and his chief enforcer, Aniello Dellacroce.  Tzar of the Brooklyn docks, Albert Anastasia operated the Knights of Alto Social club as his Manhattan outpost and drop off point for pay offs.

 

Father O’Neil Dellacroce

Neil Dellacroce, an old time Murder Inc. hitman, made his bones with Anastasia in the wild days of prohibition. The mobster, who lived across the street from the Ravenite, had a slew of nicknames including Neil, Mr. Neil, O’Neil, The Polack, The Tall Guy and most interestingly: Father O’Neil on account of the time he went on a hit dressed like a Roman Catholic Priest. According to NYPD Detective Ralph Salerno:

 

“You looked at Dellacroce’s eyes and you could see how frightening they were…The frigid glare of a killer.” Organized Crime Detective Ralph Salerno

 

dellacroce

Aniello Dellacroce

 

The 1963 Organized Crime and Illicit Traffic in Narcotics hearings had this to say about Mr. Neil:

 

Aniello Dellacroce, he is known as O’Neil. He is in gambling, shylocking, and extortion and strong arm. He has 10 arrests, 5 convictions…he has been involved in floating dice games, gambling, shylocking. He was involved with Al Anastiasia in Cuba in gambling and dice.” –Hearings on Organized Crime and Illicit Traffic in Narcotics, 1963

 

aniello-dellacroce

Dellacroce lived across the street from the Ravenite in this tenement.

 

The Ravenite Under New Management:

After Carlo Gambino and Vito Genovese toppled Albert Anastasia, Gambino purchased 247 Mulberry Street, renamed the club the Ravenite and installed Dellacroce as his underboss. The relationship proved to be incredibly lucrative with Gambino providing the brains and Mr. Neil providing the trigger-men. With Dellacroce’s help Gambino inched his way into total control of the Mafia Commission. By the time of his death in 1976, the Gambino Family boasted 500 made men and thousands of associates, but with Carlo gone, a chasm threatened to rip the Gambino’s in half.

John Gotti used the Ravenite Social Club at 247 Mulberry Street as his headquarters after becoming Gambino Family boss.

John Gotti used the Ravenite Social Club at 247 Mulberry Street as his headquarters after becoming Gambino Family boss.

 

Showdown With Big Paul Castellano

On his deathbed, Don Carlo named his son in law Big Paul Castellano the new boss of the Gambino family.  A schism immediately erupted between the Dellacroce’s blue collar soldiers and Castalano’s white collar followers. Big Paul had dreams of taking the Gambino’s legitimate, but Mr. Neil’s followers preferred gunplay and drug dealing.

 

To prevent an underworld war, Dellacroce swore fealty to Castellano and all was well in mob land. Around this time, Dellacroce would take an up-and-coming hoodlum named John Gotti under his wing.  The Queens based Gotti would do much to exacerbate the friction between Mr. Neil and Big Paul. Gotti openly trafficked narcotics, despite Castellano’s ban, punishable by burial in the East River.

 

By the mid-1980’s the center did not hold. Dying of cancer Dellacroce, Castellano,  and the rest of the Mafia Commission were facing a RICO trial with 100 year prison sentences. After the death of Dellacroce, Gotti struck, rubbing out Big Paul.

The Short Reign of Gotti

To celebrate his status as the new Gambino chieftain, Gotti picked up his headquarters, moving it from Queens to the Ravenite in 1985.  With Castellano in the morgue and the other bosses imprisoned for 100 years, Gotti became the FBI’s top target. Gambino capos paraded in and out of the Ravenite to give Gotti their blessings as the new boss, providing FBI surveillance teams with a road map of the Gambino Family. However, the FBI needed more, they needed wiretaps.

 

ravenite-floor

The original floor within the Ravenite Social Club still remains.

 

 

The Ravenite Gets Bugged

To take Gotti down, the FBI knew it needed to penetrate the Teflon Don’s inner sanctum: The Ravenite.  Jim Kallestrom’s FBI electronics wizards bugged the club in 1988 but their recordings proved to be fruitless. According to Jules Bonavolonta’s The Good Guys:

 

“Once it was in, however, the thing was virtually worthless. Gotti and his boys played jazz and old show tunes on a radio—constantly… ”-Jules Bonavolonta, The Good Guys

 

The paranoid gangsters even went as far as to install a white noise machine to further thwart FBI bugs. Bruce Mouw’s Agents listened and waited. Gotti it seemed disappeared for long stretches of time and nothing incriminating was recorded.

 

 

Perplexed, the agents questioned their informants and discovered whenever Gotti needed to discuss “real heavy stuff” he exited the Ravenite. Using a side door that entered into the apartment building’s hallway, Gotti crept to an apartment on the third floor rented by the widow of a former wiseguy.
An FBI special operations team planted wiretaps in this apartment and hit paydirt. In this inner sanctum, Gotti discussed murders, mayhem and a bevy of other crimes with his top henchmen, Sammy the Bull Gravano and Frankie Loc Locascio.  The Teflon Don was convicted in 1992 of murder, illegal gambling, bribery, tax evasion and a host of other crimes. Federal Marshals later seized the building and auctioned it off to the highest bidder.

 

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Texas Guinan Owney Madden Hotel Harding Club Intime Speakeasey Club Abby

Address: 205 West 54th Street

Status: Standing (now Flute Bar)

 

It was the swingingest speakeasy of the roaring 20s. A partnership born out of the union of the fast talking queen of New York nightlife, Texas Guinan, and the real life Great Gatsby, Owney Madden, the duke Manhattan’s West Side. Their joint was the Club Intime, a lush cabaret dripping with wall-to-wall red velvet and hanging Chinese lanterns, an open secret hidden in the basement of the Hotel Harding on West 54th Street.

 

Owney The Killer Madden

 

The hotel represented the pinnacle of Owney Madden’s rags to riches story. A veritable Horatio Alger tale, Owney came up in the Irish slums of Hell’s Kitchen around the turn of the century. Owney ran with the Gophers, the most vicious mob ever to romp on the West Side. After being shot to pieces in a dancehall, Madden became the Gopher’s king but a murder conviction in 1915 put Owney on ice for the next nine years.

 

Oweny Madden was a gangland rags to riches story. We went from West Side tough to prohibition power broker.

Oweny Madden was a gangland rags to riches story. We went from West Side tough to prohibition power broker.

 

Madden emerged from Sing Sing in 1923 penniless. Prohibition was in full swing and all of the Gophers had gone into bootlegging. His old pal Larry Fay made a fortune operating glitzy speaks and a fleet of white and purple taxi cabs, but Fay had problems, problems that a man of violence like Madden could solve. Waxey Gordon, Dutch Schultz and heavies from the other New York mobs were moving in on the pacifistic money making Fay. Owney became Fay’s partner, protecting their clubs with fists and bullets and bombs.

 

Fay and Madden grew wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. His beer, “Madden’s No. 1 Beer,” which he brewed on West 26th Street, became the gold standard of Jazz Age New York. Flush with cash,  they ran an armada of rum runners, ferrying booze across the ocean that quenched the thrust of their speakeasies including the famed Cotton Club. However, the Hotel Harding and Club Intime would become the crown jewel of Madden’s empire.

 

Owney Madden purchased the Hotel Harding to be the crown jewel of his underworld empire. Legs Diamond and Mae West lived in the hotel above Texas Guinan's speakeasy, Club Intime.

Owney Madden purchased the Hotel Harding to be the crown jewel of his underworld empire. Legs Diamond and Mae West lived in the hotel above Texas Guinan’s speakeasy, Club Intime.

 

Hello Suckers! Texas Guinan

 

Born Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan in Waco, Texas, everyone in New York called her Texas for her oversized persona and trademark greeting, “Hello Suckers!” Guinan could shoot and rope and ride with the skill of Tom Mix. She could belt out a show tune with a belly full of bathtub gin. Texas was larger than life and no one, including gangsters, politicians, or coppers could evade her ascorbic zingers.

 

In her short career, Texas was a vaudevillian, a silent movie star, and  New York City’s greatest prohibition emcee. The gangsters loved her, especially Larry Fay, because she ran the most lucrative clubs in town, taking arrests like a hard nosed hood. Together the duo ran a string of clubs all over Broadway. The El Fay, the 300 Club, and Texas Guinan’s, bouncing from club to club as the authorities raided and padlocked their nightclubs, but eventually Fay and Guinan would come to rest at Madden’s Harding Hotel, with Texas headlining.

 

 

Madden Acquires The Hotel Harding

 

Built in 1903, The twelve floor Hotel Harding stood in an important crossroads situated in the heart of the Times Square speakeasy district. Always a shadowy figure, Madden acquired the Harding using Max and Tilly Landauer as fronts to purchase the hotel. Within months, the swank building was packed with showgirls, actresses, playwrights, gangsters, boxers and associated high-end riff raff. Legs Diamond lived upstairs in the Harding, providing freelance guns for hire for Madden’s mob. The boxer Kid Berg, and Madden’s latest infatuation, an actress named Mae West, also called the Harding home.

 

Owney Madden and Texas Guinan owned the Club Intime located at 205 West 54th Street inside of Madden's posh Hotel Harding. In the 1930's Dutch Schultz acquired the club and renamed it the Club Abby.

Owney Madden and Texas Guinan owned the Club Intime located at 205 West 54th Street inside of Madden’s posh Hotel Harding. In the 1930’s Dutch Schultz acquired the club and renamed it the Club Abby.

 

“So Sweet and So Vicious,” Mae West and Owney Madden

 

Although it’s pure speculation, Owney Madden probably fell in love with Mae West during her 1916 White Rats benefit in Sing Sing. In those days, Madden was nothing more than a small time hood with a chest full of bullets and a hacking, bloody cough. However, Madden and Mae would soon be together again. In 1928 after Madden acquired the Hotel, Mae and her mother were some of his first residents. Texas Guinan and Mae held a seance there in which Ethel Barrymore and Heywood Broun helped conjure the spirits of Rudolph Valentino and Arnold Rothstein.

 

A love affair soon blossomed in the Harding Hotel. Mae affectionately nicknamed madden “her clay pigeon” for all of the bullets in his chest, later saying he was “so sweet and so vicious.” Madden invested in her plays and backed the actress when the cops jailed Mae for her risque show, Sex. The gangster’s connections with Blackwell’s Island warden earned Mae a private cell and silk underwear.  Mae was of course a regular at the Club Intime downstairs.

 

The Hullabaloo of Broadway: Club Intime

 

When Guinan and Madden opened the Club Intime the suckers came by the boatload. Crooked politicians, actors, writers, stock brokers and mobster moguls all fought for the chance to pay an unfathomable $25 cover charge and the right to be zinged by Tex.

 

Texas Guinan's speakeasy, Club Intime, was located beneath 205 West 54th Street. It is now Flute Bar.

Texas Guinan’s speakeasy, Club Intime, was located beneath 205 West 54th Street. It is now Flute Bar.

 

Once inside inside the lush speakeasy, “the suckers” were greeted by Guiana’s troupe of scantily clad fan dancers and the chance to empty their bankrolls on $5 drinks and $35 bottles of erstaz champagne of dubious vintage.

 

 

On the postage stamp sized dance floor, playwrights, Broadway crooners, top shelf gangsters,  and half naked chorus girls danced the night away. Oweny’s childhood best friend, Broadway dancer and future Hollywood actor, George Raft,  could be seen cutting a rug with Legs Diamond and Dutch Schultz. Club Intime was trailblazing cabaret, a sign of the future, a harbinger of the sexual revolution, utterly modern and utterly American. Of course the coppers wanted it closed. In April of 1929, Police Commissioner Grover Whalen raided the club for operating an unlicensed cabaret. According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

 

“Texas Guinan’s Club Intime was Evicted from the Hotel Harding, 203 W. 54th Street Yesterday… Kennedy and his assistants piled the pianos, chairs, tables, draperies and other furnishings on the sidewalk…” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1929

 

The eviction was for show, however, Guinan and Madden simply sold the club to Dutch Schultz and within days the club had morphed into an even more decadent establishment, the Club Abby.

 

Club Abby: Dutch Schultz, Gene Malin and the Pansy Craze

 

Quickly after the demise of Club Intime, the Club Abby sprouted up in its place, this time with another emcee- Gene Malin, Broadway’s first openly gay drag performer.  By the 1930s, Pansy bars were all the rage and gangsters and homosexuals rubbed shoulders in the ultimate sign of social defiance.

 

 

The Abby’s tenure at the Harding hotel was short lived, however, and gunplay would bring about the end of an era.

 

Dutch Schultz Gets Blasted

On January 24, 1931 all hell broke loose in the Club Abby when the Dutch Schultz and Waxey Gordon mobs collided. While waltzing on the dance floor the two gangs began arguing over a female companion. Suddenly, Schultz and Waxey’s lieutenant Charles Chink Sherman exchanged punches on the crowded dance floor. Sherman landed multiple punches, staggering the Dutchman, causing Schultz to ram a broken beer bottle into Sherman’s face.  The Waxey Gordon mob pulled guns and pumped lead into Dutch, but his bulletproof vest saved his hide, leaving him with a shoulder wound.  Because of the wild affray, the police closed the basement speakeasy for good.

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