In Chapter XI, Section 2 of The Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury devotes a paragraph to the downtown dives run by (and catering to) English-born thieves, con men, and roughs. One sentence reads: “Among them were such famous crooks as Chelsea George, Gentleman Joe, Cockney Ward and London Izzy Lazarus who was killed by Barney Friery in a dispute over the division of a plug hat full of jewelry, which London Izzy had stolen from a jewelry store after smashing the window with a brick.”
The man killed by Barney Friery was not “London Izzy,” but his son, Harold “Harry” Lazarus. Friery, age 21, operated a low saloon named the “Ten-Forty Loan” at 14 Houston Street, while Harry Lazarus ran a similar bar, the “X-10-U-8” (Extenuate) next door at 12 Houston. Their dispute was not over thieving spoils or a business rivalry, but apparently something much more minor. They had been uneasy friends, but Friery objected to Harry’s dog, and had recently been in Harry’s place and cruelly mistreated the pet. The two men had words, and later Friery–while dead drunk–came into Harry’s place as he was closing and offered to have one of his pals fight Harry (who was a former boxer). Harry declined, which angered Friery, and Friery stuck a knife in Harry’s neck when he wasn’t expecting it. Friery later claimed he was so drunk he had no memory of the crime. For the act, he was hanged in 1866.
Harry had been following a career path similar to his father, Izzy. “London Izzy” had been born in England in 1812, and by the 1830s had learned how to stick up for himself as a young Jewish man in a bigoted society. Bare-knuckle boxing was never genteel, but in the 1830s bouts were conducted under rules so lax that death was not an unusual result. Izzy Lararus fought Owen Swift for the championship in 1837; the fight went 113 rounds, and Lazarus was destroyed in defeat, and retired from the ring. [Swift killed three of his opponents]. Izzy then moved around several cities in England, operating pubs, sponsoring fights, and tutoring young fighters–before emigrating to America with his family in 1853.
Izzy’s first son Harry had his first prizefight at age 17 across the Canadian border from Buffalo, and emerged victorious. While residing in Buffalo, Harry Lazarus was sued by a young woman for breach of promise, but showed up in court and agreed to take vows there and then. When the Civil War started, Harry joined New York’s Fire Zouaves on a 90-day enlistment. His regiment suffered heavy casualties at Bull Run, but Harry was said to acquit himself bravely. He fought in the same unit as his prizefighting opponent from Buffalo.
After completing his service, Harry bounced westward, operating saloons. In Nevada in 1864, he attended a prizefight on which he had bet heavily, and objected when the fight was stopped over a foul by his man. A supporter of the opposing fighter yelled back at Harry, and guns were drawn. After dozens of bullets flew, five men were injured, and the man Harry had pulled his pistol on was dead. Harry was left with two missing fingers and a lead ball in his shoulder. Though he might have escaped conviction, Harry chose to leave the territory before he could be tried.
Returning east, Harry opened his saloon in New York City in 1865, where he was soon downed by Friery. Harry’s father, Izzy, took the loss hard. Izzy himself had been running a saloon, but also provided boxing classes for eager students. By the 1860s, Izzy had ballooned to over 300 pounds, after starting out as a lightweight. The grief over the loss of his son, as well as complications from obesity, brought Izzy to death in 1867.
The Lazarus family of men were no angels, but they made their mark in the history of boxing; and deserved better than the mistaken slander Asbury related. Asbury’s source for asserting that Izzy [Harry] was a thief was Frank Moss’s The American Metropolis: From Knickerbocker Days to the Present Time; New York City Life in All Its Various Phases, but Asbury took the image of the stolen plug hat full of loot from an anecdote Moss related about a different man.