If (as it seems) Herbert Asbury delighted in telling lurid tales of New York City’s villainous and depraved, he missed a golden opportunity to expound on the career of One-Armed Charley Monell, whom he mentions briefly in Chapter III as the owner of the Hole-in-the-Wall saloon, located at the corner of Water and Dover Streets. Asbury’s source for his brief mention of Monell was Charles Sutton’s The New York Tombs, Its Secrets and Mysteries, published in 1874; but Sutton was quoting a Brooklyn Eagle article, “River Thieves,” published in January of that year (and later as a chapter of the National Police Gazette‘s serialized book, Crooked Life in New York). This article was the origin of the assertion that Gallus Mag worked in the Hole-in-the-Wall for Monell; and that Monell’s saloon was the site of many murders, including the killing of Patsey the Barber by Slobbery Jim (which, as noted in other entries in this blog, is incorrectly placed).
Charles Monell was born on North Street in Boston in 1826, but never knew his parents and spent his early years as a street waif. At the age of eleven, he joined the crew of a slaver and spent many years in service to the trade of human chattel. In 1850, he returned to Boston and worked as an agent for a sailor’s boarding house and saloon, where he assisted in robbing and shanghaiing drunken mariners. Three years later, he opened his own boarding house/dance hall. The New York Sun of November 24, 1871 continued Monell’s resume:
“…His partner was a woman known as Portland Nelly. She was Amazonian in proportions and a fit associate for her spouse. His house soon became a resort for the fallen and depraved of both sexes, and at length, by the frequency of midnight brawls, the attention of the police was called to the place. The result was the arrest of Monell and his woman and the breaking up of the establishment. Monell was sent to the House of Correction for one year and fined $500; the woman was discharged, Monell served his full time, and returned to Boston to find a slave brig ready to sail. She carried the Spanish flag, and had a Spanish captain. The crew was composed of an equal number of Spaniards and Americans. At sea the Americans mutinied and killed the captain and several of the crew. The others were made to walk the plank. The Americans, with Monell at their head, landed somewhere on the island of Cuba, but what became of the brig–whether stranded, burned, sold, or abandoned–never was or will be known.
“Monell then returned to Boston. He soon opened another boarding house. This time, however, the police denied him permission to connect a dance hall with it, hence his business did not prosper. His companion was Mary Moore, said to have been a remarkably beautiful woman, but as depraved as she was handsome. During the time they were together two dead bodies were found in the house. One of them was that of an unknown sailor, supposed to have died of apoplexy, the other that of a fallen women, said to have died of disease of the heart. Shortly after the discovery of the last body Monell and his wife quarreled and fought. The once lovely Mary was bundled off to a hospital, where she died. The neighbors said she had been kicked to death by her man.
“After her death, Monell became more dissolute and debauched than ever. He was seldom or never sober. One night his house was burned down. He was arrested, charged with arson, tried, found guilty, and sent to the Charlestown Penitentiary for two years, every day of which he served. On being released he opened another house in North street. There was a row there the first night, and a policeman who entered to quell the disturbance was dangerously stabbed. Monell was tried for felonious assault and battery, and notwithstanding that no proof was produced that he was the assailant, his bad character convicted him, and he was sent to the House of Correction for twelve months. He served a portion of his time, and one dark and rainy night made his escape. In scaling the wall he was shot at by one of the guards. The ball took effect in his right arm, near the shoulder, and completely shattered the bone. Almost helpless, bleeding and weak, he reached Boston in safety, and went on board the clipper ship Romance of the Sea, bound for San Francisco; she was in the act of hauling out from the dock when he boarded her. As soon as the ship was clear of the dock, the crew were ordered forward to cockpit the anchor. The gear broke and the anchor injured some of the men, who were sent to the hospital. Monell took advantage of the circumstance to go to the hospital with those of the crew who were injured. There his right arm was amputated, and there he was dubbed one-armed Charley.”
According to this same New York Sun article, Monell left Boston after he recovered and arrived in New York City in 1863 and quietly opened a small dive at 97 James Street. In 1864 a man was found dead in his bar, which brought Monell to the attention of his nemesis, police Captain Thomas W. Thorne. Thorne nabbed Monell on a different charge of stealing money from a sailor, resulting in a two-year State Prison sentence. While behind bars, Monell’s latest companion, a woman named Jane, died at Bellevue Hospital from injuries that neighbors said were sustained when Monell struck her over the head with a pitcher.
After serving his term, Monell returned to New York City and opened another notorious dive at 336 Water Street. After complaints were made, Captain Thorne had Monell arraigned on a charge of operating a disorderly house, but this time he was only sent to Blackwell’s Island, the city penitentiary, for three months. In 1867, Monell took over the saloon The Rising States, which formerly had been run by Johnny Lowrie [Note: Lowrie is named “Bill Lowry” in Asbury’s book, so look for another blog entry that will attempt to sort out that confusion.] Thorne shut Monell down within two months, and Monell did another three months at Blackwell’s.
Monell then ran a dance hall on New Chambers Street (at No. 13 or No. 85, according to different sources), a property leased to him by John Allen, the so-called “wickedest man in New York.” Thorne closed it after three months. In 1868, Monell opened the soon-to-be infamous Hole-in-the-Wall at 14 Dover Street; this was a side entrance to a building that fronted on Water Street, so some accounts list the Hole-in-the-Wall as being located at 279 Water Street. Monell was then protected by political friends until November, 1871, when he was charged with Assault with Intent to Kill for stabbing a man at the Hole-in-the-Wall, 14 Dover Street. He was sent to Sing Sing to serve a fourteen-year sentence in late November, 1871.
As Monell boarded the ship taking him up the river to Sing Sing, he had a few last words for the Sun reporter: “You think you know me. You don’t,” and then whispered, “You’ll never see me again.”
By 1875, Monell had been transferred to Auburn State Prison to serve the remainder of his term. From there, trace of him can’t be found. The Hole-in-the Wall building still stands, and housed the Bridge Cafe until Hurricane Sandy caused serious flood damage in 2012.