Billy McGlory (real name William H. McGrory, 1850-1927) was, during the 1880s and early 1890s, among the handful of New York City’s most notorious dance-hall operators. His most successful establishment was the Armory Hall, located at 158 Hester Street, but his other dives: the Windsor Palace, Burnt Rag, Burnt Rag No. 2, Hotel Irving, etc. appealed to the same clientele: those who appreciated dancers kicking up their legs doing the can-can and leaving later that evening with their new gentlemen friends (and slummers who enjoyed the spectacle of debauchery).

Wikipedia has a fairly complete and accurate entry on Billy McGlory, that strays from the truth only when it relies on Herbert Asbury as a source. When McGrory was five in 1855, the family was living in the Sixth Ward, not far from the Bowery, but his father was a grocer and his mother managed several boarders living in their house. Before Billy was nine, the family had moved to 354 West Sixteenth Street in the Sixteenth Ward (today’s Chelsea section of Manhattan), far from the Bowery and the Five Points. There is no evidence that he was a gang member, though he ran with thieves at an early age. McGrory’s father, Patrick, died in 1859, leaving Bill’s mother, Honora, to lead the family. She had some assistance from her son from a prior marriage, John Tomlinson, who went on have a very successful career in musical/comedy theater under the name Johnny Thompson.

Though not poor, the McGrory family was hardly peaceful. In 1866, Billy was arrested under the name “Gilbert McGlare” for robbery and, though only 16, was sent to Sing Sing for five years (he was registered as being 18). This fact never surfaced during his later life, and even NYPD Superintendent George W. Walling seemed unaware of this background; Billy was always reticent about discussing his early years.

The McGrory family’s internal strife frequently made headlines:

  • Honora–Billy’s mother–was married three times: first to John Tomlinson, then to Thomas Lane, and lastly to Patrick McGrory.
  • In 1885, Billy’s younger brother Michael came home drunk and started breaking furniture. Someone in the house called the police, who arrested the 20-year-old bartender. A judge sentenced Michael to 3 months at Blackwell’s Island, and warned Honora not to intercede on her son’s behalf. She said she would not.
  • Honora had a daughter, also named Honora, who married Hugh Campbell, a thief sent to Sing Sing in 1875. While her husband was jailed in 1877, young Honora drew the attentions of a bartender named James Hennessey. Outside their house, Mother McGrory and Billy attacked Hennessey, while young Honora tried to defend him. Her sister Mary then jumped on young Honora. The family fight had to be broken up by a squad of patrolmen. Honora later divorced Campbell and married Hennessey.
  • In December 1878, a patron of Billy’s dive was attacked, and brought charges against Billy. Before the case could be heard, the victim was discharged from his hospital bed by two of Billy’s companions, who brought him to the McGrory home to “recuperate.” The man later claimed that he had been kidnapped.
  • By 1883, Billy had gained infamy for hiring thugs to be his waiters. Two of them earned lodgings at Sing Sing prison.
  • Billy’s sister, Mary McGrory, married a NYPD patrolman, H. Irving Houghtaling. Houghtaling once had his skull fractured while directing traffic, and on another occasion tackled a fleeing murderer.
  • In 1886, a boarder of one of Honora’s properties named John “Nut” Moran was shot as he pursued his calling as a burglar. He limped back to the McGrory house and later died in his room.
  • By 1893, Billy had fallen on hard times, but his mother still retained rental properties in Hoboken, New Jersey and Brooklyn, as well as several healthy bank accounts. Billy returned to his old homestead and tried to have his mother declared incompetent. Billy’s siblings objected, and the law was on their side. As a result, Billy was written out of his mother’s will when she died in 1896. However, he brought suit in a New Jersey court after her death over property she had there.

Billy kept a low profile after his dives had been closed, but it’s possible he just became more careful about having properties registered in his name. He died in his seventies in Orlando, Florida in 1927.

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