Posts Tagged ‘East River Pirates’

Corlear's Hook Birthplace of the Hooker Featured Image

Status: Park


New York City can claim many firsts. The first elevator was constructed in New York in 1857. The first roller coaster ran in Coney Island in 1884 and the first hooker walked the banks of the East River. Clearly the world’s oldest profession wasn’t born in New York City, but according to many scholars the term “hooker” was a New York original, but why? To answer that question, we’ll have to travel back to the 1820s and a little hump of land on the East River called Corlear’s Hook; the birthplace of the hooker.  


Corlears Hook today.

Corlears Hook today.

Nowadays, Corlear’s Hook does not get much press. Named for the hump of land that protrudes into the East River, Corlears hook is no longer a neighborhood and only a small park designates its existence at all. However in the 1820s, The Hook, as it was known to sailors the world over, was a wild place indeed. 


Wickedest Man in New York, John Allen. 304 Water Street, Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport, Corlear’s Hook, 4th Ward, Westley Allen, Wess Allen, The. Allen, Theodore Allen, Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York, Saloon

Dance halls often served as brothels in Corlear’s Hook.


According to  Edwin G. Burrows & Mike Wallace’s Gotham:

“At Corlear’s Hook, Adjacent to the shipyards, coal dumps, and ironworks, droves of streetwalkers brazenly solicited industrial workers, sailors, and Brooklyn ferry commuters. So notorious was the Hook’s reputation as a site for prostitution that the local sex workers were nicknamed “Hookers,” generating a new moniker for the entire trade.”Gotham


Barry Popik, an etymologist, traced the derivation of hooker on his Big Apple blog, noting a “mostly New York origin.” He writes, 

“Irving Lewis Allen’s City in Slang( (1993), pages 184-186, nicely describes the term:The earliest written record of hooker is in 1845. (…) The simple idea of “hooking” as coarse sexual persuasion is probably the root sense of the word. (…)The adoption and use of hooker in New York may have been reinforced by the place name of Corlears Hook, a famous slum and red-light district once on the East Side waterfront. The area was locally known as The Hook. John Russell Bartlett in the 1859 edition of his Dictionary of Americanisms attributed, without proof, the origin of the word to Corlears Hook: “Hooker. A resident of the Hook, i.e., a strumpet, a sailor’s trull. So called from the number of houses of ill-fame frequented by sailors at the Hook (i.e., Corlear’s Hook) in the city of New York.”


The Short Tail Gang (Corlears Hook) under pier at foot of Jackson Street, now Corlears Hook Park. (Image via the Museum of The City of New York)

The Short Tail Gang (Corlears Hook) under pier at foot of Jackson Street, now Corlears Hook Park. (Image via the Museum of The City of New York)


Hooking at Corlear’s Hook 

Life in general in the Fourth Ward was a desperate affair. River pirates infested the shores of the East River. Murder and shanghaiing was commonplace and the poverty inescapable. In these desperate conditions, women turned to prostitution often as a second or third job in addition to their legal occupations.  


According to Timothy J. Gilfoyle’s City of Eros:

“By 1839, eighty-seven brothels were situated in the Hook. Many prostitutes had other occupations. A report published by the New York Female Moral Reform Society in 1839 listed fur sewers, book folders, umbrella sewers, tailoresses, and milliners as the highest percentages with dual occupations. -City of Eros  


Corlears Hook Map


Prostitution in the Hook centered on Walnut, now Jackson, street and the infamous resorts of Water Street. The entire Fourth Ward, The Hook’s official political zone, represented the first commercialized sex district in New York. Streetwalkers strutted the docks and ferry terminals. Parlor girls worked out of tenements converted into brothels. However by the 1850s, many of the prostitutes moved to the Five Points in search of better pay at a new red light district. 


Jack the Ripper Visits the Hook

By the 1890s only the most destitute girls walked the streets of Corlears Hook. The shipbuilding industry moved uptown and the NYPD harbor patrol brought the river pirates to justice, leaving Corlear’s Hook a desolate and dangerous area. A perfect stalking ground for a serial killer to ply their trade. 


On April 24, 1891 Jack the Ripper supposedly made his New York debut, disemboweling and strangling Carrie Brown, a sex worker known as Old Shakespeare for her habit of quoting the bard during drinking games. The crime remains unsolved. 


Converted into Parkland 

In the 1890s, social reformers Jacob Riis chronicled the living conditions of the poor with a new tool, the camera. Riis focused his early work on the Hook and the Five Points. With his photographs Riis, convinced City Hall to begin demolishing the slums to build model housing and parks. Corlears Hook park was one of his first successful projects and one of the municipal parks constructed to ease the conditions of the poor.


Corlears Hook Park 1903.

Corlears Hook Park 1903. (Image via the Museum of the City of New York)

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Bridge Cafe, 279 Water Street, Gallus Mag, River Pirates, South Street Seaport

The Bride Café on Water Street was once known as the Hole-In-The-Wall Saloon, a vicious den of 19th century depravity.

Location: 279 Water Street

Status: Standing

From Schermerhorn Row to the Thomas Carpenter house, the South Street Seaport boasts not only New York’s oldest buildings, but also one of its oldest drinking establishments, a pirate bar located at 279 Water Street, but now thanks to Hurricane Sandy, the Bridge Café may have to be shuttered for good.

Booze and Blood by the Bucket

Constructed in 1794, this blood red, three story sagging wood framed structure on the corner of Dover and Water Street once housed the Hole-In-The-Wall-Saloon, a vicious den of 19th century depravity. Between the years of 1859 and 1881, the heyday of the East River pirates, the bar served up booze and blood by the bucket. In The American Metropolis, Reverend Parkhurst’s gangbusting Attorney Frank Moss called the bar:

 …a bagnio [brothel] filled with river pirates and Water Street hags.

The Infamous Gallus Mag

In 1874 the Brooklyn Eagle had this to say about the bar:

It was there that thieves and junkmen would meet to ‘put up jobs;’ it was there that men were drugged and robbed and women beaten…it was there that young thieves became graduates in crime.

And it was there that folk legend Gallus Mag bludgeoned her way onto the scene. It is impossible to separate fact from fiction in the history of Mag, the noted six foot tall cockney bouncer, who kept a small sack filled with wet sand for knocking out sailors on her belt.

Bridge Cafe, 279 Water Street, Gallus Mag, River Pirates, South Street Seaport

The Bridge Café is located 279 Water Street.

A Distinguished Thief

Gallus’s real name was Mag Perry, but Water Streeters called her Gallus on account of the very un-lady like suspenders (galluses) she wore. Gallus ran the Hole In The Wall with her husband Jack, the distinguished thief whose greatest claim to fame, other beating a fourteen year prison sentence, was when he swiped Josh Ward’s championship rowing belt.

Bridge Cafe, 279 Water Street, Gallus Mag, River Pirates, South Street Seaport

The Bridge Café is New York City’s last standing pirate bar.

Jack ran the front of the house, tending bar and robbing and drugging sailors, while Gallus worked clean up, biting off the ears and fingers of obstreperous bar flies. She kept those grisly trophies in a pickling jar on a shelf behind the bar that is still there today.

The Bridge Cafe

Around the 1880s the name of the bar was changed to the Bridge café, on account of the massive Brooklyn Bridge at the café’s doorstep. Before Hurricane Sandy the restaurant was akin to stepping back into the days of steam and sail, replete with an 1810 tin ceiling and an ancient mahogany bar.

Now the Bridge Café needs help. During hurricane Sandy the dining room was filled with over three feet of water, but there’s good news, according to this New York 1 article the café plans to reopen in two months. So when they reopen, why not drop in at the Bridge Café, grab a soft-shelled crab sandwich and tell them Gallus Mag sent ya?

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