One of the engaging qualities of Asbury’s The Gangs of New York is his talent for name-dropping and inserting asides that hint at long, entertaining digressions that the reader can only imagine. This is certainly the case in his “The Killing of Bill the Butcher” chapter [Chapter V, Section 2] when he mentions the presence of “Mark Maguire, King of the Newsboys”, in the Stanwix Hall bar the evening of Bill Poole’s murder. Maguire was in the bar with his friend, the pugilist John Morrissey, when Poole and Morrissey had their confrontation. Who could read this and not want to know more about a “King of the Newsboys”? But Asbury never elaborates.
Born at sea in 1814 on the way New York, Maguire began life in the city as a newsboy. His hard work was rewarded, and he soon set himself up as a broker, recruiting newsboys who could not afford to buy their own newspapers (as was the practice, before newspapers managed their own newsboys). By his own count, Maguire at one point controlled an army of 500 paper hawkers, earning him the title “King of the Newsboys” in the late 1830s and 1840s. Many of the young men he gave a start in life later became members of the city’s establishment: actors, policemen, politicians, judges, etc. By 1850, Maguire converted his earnings into ownership of a tavern/hotel and trotting horses. He became a fixture of New York City’s sporting community; and a supporter and backer of the two predominate sports: pugilism and horse racing.
In the 1850s and 1860s, Maguire operated a series of roadhouses in Harlem, but always sought more space to host sporting events. He also became a sports editor for the New York Sun, and contributed articles to other sporting periodicals. His last resort was known as the Red House, located at 106th Street and 2nd Avenue, and supported at half-mile racing track which also served as a baseball field (in the earliest years of organized baseball). Commodore Vanderbilt was said to be a frequent visitor.
A sense of how much of a popular landmark the Red House became can be found in this March 3, 1866 column that appeared in Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times weekly:
…I went to see Mark Maguire at the Red House, on Second avenue. This same Red House, friend Wilkes, is not only one of the finest spots on the Island, but is as chuck full of trotting reminiscences as an egg is supposed to be of meat before there is a chicken inside of the covering called the shell. I have been a participant of some of the jolliest scenes that were ever rollicked through on the stage of life, or the road either, on that same spot.
I have witnessed on that “sacred soil” rattling trots every way rigged, intermixed with pigeon-shooting, target-firing, foot-racing, foot-ball, base-ball, cricket–but not Maggie Mitchell, though–quoits, military drills, chicken disputes, dog wrangling, bear-baiting, man encounters, with hands up, wrestling, dice chucking for horse-flesh, wagons, sleighs, harness, bells, blankets, fishing-tackle, and even big bass were raffled for, that had been caught about the Pot-rocks, and Hogsback in Hell Gate, when rattling little Benny Garno kept his famous stopping place where Ike Vermilyes lives now, on Third avenue. I say the dips were chucked for big bass by the odd fish of the day, including other scaly articles who can be found in every community, Christian or pagan, since the art of hunting was discovered, and maybe before the first eruption of Mount Vesuvius occurred. I tell you, writers and riders of the present day, it was an established institution, was the Red House, for frolic, fun, and all practical matters of the fine arts–even weaving a match on eating, or who could stow away the greatest amount of grub, by those who prided on gluttony then, as some pride themselves now on rampant political villainy, to break down the most simple and beautiful form of government that was ever brought into existence since God formed the world for us to battle in.
Mark Maguire attended every major boxing match into the 1870s, but in his latter years was pitied for his failing eyesight; others noted that he had to have fights described to him blow by blow, since he could attend but not see. He lost his roadhouses, and died in modest circumstances in 1889, all but forgotten.