Happy Jack Grinned, But Was No Joker

In The Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury had a tendency to shoehorn all famous crimes and criminals into association with the city’s infamous gangs, despite there being no evidence for those connections. An example can be found in his contention that Happy Jack Mulraney was a member of the Gophers gang. In Chapter XII, Section 2 he writes:

“Still another Gopher of distinction was Happy Jack Mulraney, so called because he always appeared to be laughing. However, the smile was caused by a partial paralysis of the muscles of his face. In reality Happy Jack was a verjuiced person and very sensitive about his deformity; when his chieftains wished to enrage him against an enemy they told him that slighting remarks had been made about his permanent grin. Happy Jack was finally sent to prison for the murder of Paddy the Priest, who owned a saloon in Tenth avenue and was a staunch friend of Happy Jack’s until he asked the gangster why he did not laugh on the other side of his face. Happy Jack then shot him and for good measure robbed the till.”

Hundreds of newspaper articles appeared about John “Happy Jack” during his arrest, conviction, appeals and eventual execution in the electric chair in May, 1913. Not one of them mentioned the Gophers, or a facial deformity. When Mulraney was sentenced for Patrick “Paddy the Priest” McBreen’s murder, he was sent to Sing Sing, where the prison intake records meticulously recorded every prisoner’s physical features. Nothing was mentioned about a facial deformity; instead, his features were characterized as “regular.”

The victim, Paddy the Priest, earned his nickname through acts of kindness and charity, despite being a saloon operator. There is no evidence he knew Happy Jack before the crime. Instead, witnesses testified that Mulraney and three others had been searching for a clothing store to rob that evening, but were frustrated by iron security bars. Mulraney and a companion walked down the block and went into McBreen’s bar, where Paddy was counting receipts at the till. Mulraney and his partner pulled guns. McBreen thought they were joking, and reached behind his back to untie his apron. Mulraney thought he was reaching for a weapon, and shot him three times.

The murder occurred on October 4, 1911. John Mulraney had just been released from Auburn State Prison a month earlier; he had been sent there in May, 1907 for Burglary (his third offense since a year earlier, 1906). One witness identified Mulraney from looking at the NYPD Rogue’s Gallery photographs, and pointed to Mulraney because he looked so mean. A grainy reproduction of the mug shot appeared in the March 15, 1914 New York Herald, alongside a full-page article describing how detectives found evidence and tracked down their man. The photo is dark, but definitely shows a man without a smile:

However, Happy Jack earned his nickname because he did smile often, and inappropriately. He grinned during his trial, laughed when sentenced to die, and (by some accounts) had the remnants of a smile on his lifeless face after being electrocuted. Before he died, he told prison reformer Madeleine Zabriskie Doty that his life was a joke. By Doty’s account, Mulraney’s life had been one of almost constant street life and crime. He did not appear to have much cunning, but that may have been an act. While on Death Row, he succeeded in gaining an appeal hearing and a stay of execution by presenting four or five different versions of who committed the murder and how he was not present as the scene. Several of his defense witnesses soon admitted to perjury (including his mother!), and in the end of own defense lawyer threw in the towel and refused further motions.

Those who cling to the idea that Mulraney might have inspired the Joker are mistaken. If any one figure inspired the comic-book villain, it was Victor Hugo’s protagonist Gwynplaine, in The Man Who Laughs. Hugo’s work was made into a Hollywood movie in 1928–the same year that The Gangs of New York was published.

Still, some may point to this clipping from 1903:

However, cold water (if not acid) can be thrown on this by pointing out that different articles gave the man’s name as John Mulvaney, Joseph Mulraney, and James Mulvaney; and that he was a stock clerk by profession; he was permanently blinded in one eye and his face was severely burned.

Wickedness…Unto Three Generations

Herbert Asbury’s third chapter of The Gangs of New York does not deal with gangs at all, but instead describes the dance halls and dives of the Fourth Ward (the waterfront of the lower Eastern eastern end of Manhattan) of the 1850s-1870s. It does not take long for Asbury to focus on the Water Street establishments of John Allen, Kit Burns, Charlie Monell, Gallus Mag, Bill Slocum, and Tommy Hadden. Of these, John Allen’s dance hall was the most popular, aided by Allen’s eccentricities, of which his claim to religiosity was the most jarring. Asbury describes the curious events of 1868, which included Allen allowing religious meetings to take place in his dive (during which Allen himself spoke about moral behavior). Soon Allen’s cohorts–Tommy Hadden and Bill Slocum–also allowed the temporary takeover of their establishments by visiting ministers preaching reform.

The motives behind these proselytizing stunts were never revealed, but Asbury relates the suspicion of many contemporary observers that Allen, Hadden, Slocum, et al. were paid by the ministers for the use of their buildings, and that Allen and company profited not only from the rental, but from free publicity–and that publicity was also the motive of the reformers.

As Asbury states, John Allen had been anointed the title “the wickedest man in New York” even before this time. However, once public scrutiny was drawn to Tommy Hadden by the events of 1868, at least one newspaper declared that Hadden was “wickeder than the Wickedest.” The reason for this is easily understood when you consider that Hadden’s other accolade was being named “the king of the shanghaiers.” Hadden ran a grog-shop/sailor’s boarding house at the Water Street address, and later operated a dance hall on Cherry Street. Hadden perfected the craft of drugging the drinks of his sailor customers, conveying them unconscious down to the piers, and supplying them to ship captains needing crews for long voyages, especially to the orient. From the viewpoint of these ship captains, Tommy Hadden was a reliable crew “recruiter” who always delivered what he was asked for.

Between 1856 and 1868, Tommy Hadden was arrested a half-dozen times for kidnapping, and was convicted to State Prison once, spending two years in Sing Sing between 1856 and 1858. In 1869, Tommy was sent to the New Jersey State Prison for drugging a resident of that state, stealing his keys, and then going to the man’s house to steal his furniture. Not long after his return from that prison stay, he was at it again:

While this prison sentence marked the end of Tommie’s criminal career, Archie’s was just beginning. Archibald Hadden, born in 1859, avoided conviction alongside his father in 1878. However, in 1882 Archie was sent to Sing Sing for two years on a Grand Larceny charge. He returned there in 1885 on a Burglary conviction, and was later transferred from Sing Sing to Auburn. In 1889 he was charged with assault, resulting in another two year stretch at Sing Sing. Archie kept a lower profile in the late 1890s and 1900s, though in 1901 he was accused of kidnapping sailors. By 1910 he was the operator of one of the most notorious Tenderloin district dives and houses of prostitution, the German Village on 40th Street, opposite the Metropolitan Opera; and Hadden also owned the nearby Denver Hotel. Archie later diversified by buying a lumberyard in Bayside, Queens, where his family relocated.

Archie Hadden’s joint on 40th Street, the German Village

There was no son that survived childhood for Archie to pass down the family aptitude for running dens of iniquity. Instead, Archie was blessed with a family of five girls. The oldest, Mamie, born in 1881, married in her early twenties and lived in Brooklyn with the same man her entire life, and hosted her father Archie in his last years. As for the other four girls, their timeline reads like an improbable film noir…

In 1904, at age 18, Helen (aka Nellie/Ella) Hadden married James Regan, one of the managers of the cafe at her father’s joint, the German Village. They separated after a year, but she bore him a son. They never formally divorced, and Regan let her continue live in their apartment, though he moved elsewhere when he took another job.

In May, 1908, the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children discovered that 14-year-old Elizabeth Hadden and 13-year-old Anna Hadden were living in rooms at their father’s dive hotel, and were awarded custody of the two girls by a judge. The girls were placed in the St. Joseph’s Home in Peekskill, New York. Five months later, their mother pulled up to the home in a speeding car and whisked away Anna, who was waiting outside. Elizabeth was too ill to make the escape. Police discovered that Anna had been taken to Helen Hadden Regan’s apartment, but Helen took her sister away before police arrived, and later refused to tell where she was.

In 1909, Helen Hadden–though not formally divorced from Regan–married an infamous former pickpocket named Morris Glatt. Glatt, nicknamed “The Twinkler” for his affinity for stealing diamonds, had allegedly reformed in 1908 and now worked as a private detective for the Pinkerton agency, stopping pickpockets at racetracks. Glatt worked at the most famous tracks all over the country, and received high praise from his employers.

In April 1910, James Regan went to Helen’s apartment looking for his 6-year old son, and found that Glatt had moved in. Neither man admitted to being aware of each other’s existence as Helen’s husband. Regan tried to force his way in, but Glatt calmly shot him twice through the door. Regan survived his wounds.

The Glatts, Morris and Helen Hadden Regan Glatt, moved to Long Island City, Queens, where Morris now worked as a detective for the Long Island Railroad. In April 1911, while at home with Helen, Morris Glatt died from a gunshot wound to the head while lying down on a bed. The death was ruled suicide. [Note: astute readers of The Gangs of New York Annotated will connect the name Morris Glatt to the entry on Josh Hines, because most people at the time assumed that Glatt had become fearful of revenge threats Hines had made against Glatt shortly before Hines was released from prison.] No newspapers thought it suspicious that Helen Hadden was also in the house.

A year later, in May 1912, Morris Glatt’s brother Garry Glatt and Helen’s sister Florence (aka Dolly) Glatt were arrested for picking pockets.

In June 1913, Helen and Florence wandered through the Italian neighborhood of Hoboken, New Jersey, in their fancy dress, wearing much jewelry–and were caught shoplifting baubles. A month later, Helen re-married James Regan. However, they soon split again.

In February 1914, Helen and Florence pulled off a double elopement, each marrying respectable young businessmen: Florence married Edward J. Duffy, a manager from Flushing New York; and Helen married John J. Trapp, a Wall Street broker. Helen again forgot that she was still officially married to Regan. Trapp and Helen very quickly separated, though it took Trapp years to see through divorce proceedings.

Three months later, Helen married again (she then had two active husbands, Regan and Trapp) to Louis Targoff. Helen and Targoff then descended into drug addiction (her father Archie’s dive had been raided for drug use). The Targoffs traveled to Baltimore to enter a sanitarium for treatment, but were arrested upon their arrival. The authorities then let them go. Helen was arrested for shoplifting again in 1916.

Between 1916 and 1920, Florence (Dolly) went through her own marital change. Duffy disappeared, and she married a man named Roche, though he does not appear to have kept pace with the family. In September 1920, Archie (now 61) was arrested for running a speakeasy in Rosedale, Queens. Two years later he was sent to prison for a year for running a dive featuring prostitutes at the same location. Archie insisted it was a just a dance hall, and that women flocked to it because he was the best dancer in New York.

In 1924, the Archie’s joint, now called the 101 Ranch or “Pop’s Place,” was being run by Florence (now known as Dolly Roche). She remarried to a man named Charles Streib. They soon had two daughters together. A few years later, Helen married yet again, to a man twenty years her junior, Joseph Calderone.

The Haddens appear to have exhausted their quotient of wickedness by the 1930s. Archie lived to the age of 86, but no family members found their way back into headlines.

Chuck Connors Loses His Identity

For many decades, the one man who embodied the popular conception of a Bowery resident was a character known as Chuck Connors. Connors was a garrulous, cheerful fixture of Chinatown, who had grown up in the Five Points and later served as a messenger for Chinese merchants. Frequently found in Chinatown’s notorious dives, Connors soon gained a reputation as a Chinatown guide for slumming uptown tourists. He was featured as a Bowery character by a couple of New York newspaper reporters, which served to spread his fame throughout the city. A former boxer, Connors was also championed by dive-owner Scotty Lavelle and Richard Fox, publisher of the National Police Gazette.

In addition to regaling people with his heavy dialect anecdotes, Connors was a talented dancer who–along with his favorite female partners–was frequently invited to balls in order to add color to the event. He pioneered some comical (but adroit) dance moves, and became a favorite of the Tammany politicos who often sponsored these entertainments. Publisher Fox even published a book of Chuck’s anecdotes Bowery Life, illustrated by Chuck in some of his mugging poses.

Actor Chris Simmons has made of video of his uncanny recreation of Chuck Connors dialect:

In the beginning, there was only one Chuck. This is literally true, since many sources credit Chuck Connors as being the first person presumed to be nicknamed “Chuck” for Charles. Except his name was not Charles. It wasn’t even Connors. He was born about 1861 as Patrick O’Connor. He once suggested his nickname came from his affinity for “chuck” (steak, or food in general?). [Thanks to Chris S. for correction–ed.]

As a young man, Chuck Connors was one of the intrepid juveniles that performed at the Grand Duke’s Opera House on Baxter Street. He and another boy named Tommie Winn(g) performed an acrobatic act as “The Winn(g) Brothers.”

Chuck’s heyday as a minor celebrity lasted from the early 1890s to 1905. In that year, Chuck’s first wife, Nellie Noonan, passed away with tuberculosis. Chuck himself was slowing down, aged by drink and ring pummelings. As Herbert Asbury relates in Chapter XIV, Section 3 of The Gangs of New York, 1905 was also the year when Connors was challenged as the unofficial mascot of Chinatown by a young Italian bootblack who styled himself “Young Chuck Connors.” Asbury named the upstart as Frank Salvatore, but the source for this story, a January 11, 1905 New York Post article titled “King Chuck Abdicates,” doesn’t name the usurper. Asbury probably makes more of this story than it warranted, for there is no evidence that the rival Chuck persisted in stealing the original Chuck’s act.

Still, this anecdote foreshadows the strange turn Chuck Connors’ legacy took even after his death in 1913.

Skip ahead a dozen years to the mid-1920s. Young stage starlet Mae West arrives at a New York Hotel, and shimmers through the lobby. An old off-duty policeman sees her and freezes in stunned amazement (which may not have been an uncommon reaction). Mae sees him and asks what’s wrong. The man explains that Mae is the spitting image of the girl he loved in younger days, but their romance was ill-fated. Mae listened with interest to the story, set against the backdrop of the Bowery district, and thought it would be a good premise for a stage production.

To research the story further, she was introduced to a former radio singer who was now acting in his own vaudeville routine, Chuck Connors, Jr. Billed as the son of the original Chuck Connors, Chuck Jr. regaled Mae West with stories from the Bowery of the gay nineties, along with artifacts from the career of the first Chuck. With Chuck Jr.’s help, they developed the production that hit the stage as Diamond Lil in 1928. The plot included the role of Chuck Connors. It was a runaway hit, but Mae’s scandalous character, seductive presence, and double entendre lines elicited demands for censorship.

Though Mae West successfully transitioned to (pre-Hays code) Hollywood, she struggled to get Diamond Lil adapted to film. Paramount finally agreed to film it in 1932, but insisted on a title change, and that no references were made to the play. It was released as She Done Him Wrong in January, 1933, starring Mae West, Cary Grant, Noah Beery, and Tammany Young (as Chuck Connors.)

Paramount’s rival, 20th Century Fox, countered with the film The Bowery, released later in 1933. It starred George Raft, Jackie Mason, and Wallace Beery (Noah’s brother!) as Chuck Connors. In this case, Beery as Chuck Connors was the lead character. The plot revolved around a (fictional) bitter rivalry between Chuck Connors and Steve Brodie, the Brooklyn Bridge daredevil jumper (Raft). The film included episodes unflattering to Connors’ character, including the notion that he had prevented firefighters from saving a burning building full of Chinatown residents.

The studio rivalry became manifest when Chuck Connors Jr., who supported Paramount’s She Done Him Wrong, brought a libel suit against 20th Century Fox for disparaging the career of his father. The suit was brought to court, where the Fox lawyers revealed that Chuck Jr. was not the son of Chuck Connors at all, but was really his nephew, George Anthony Miller. The libel suit was tossed thanks to Jr.’s lack of candor.

The kerfuffle over the ghost of Chuck Connors did not stop there. The 1939 New York World’s Fair presented, as one of its exhibits, a Potemkin gilded-age New York Bowery street, with entertainment produced by George Jessel. Its main feature was “Chuck Connor’s Saloon.” The real Chuck Connors, it should be noted, spent most of his waking hours in saloons, but never ran one.

Chuck Connors’ restless identity was finally vanquished by the amazing career of actor and athlete Kevin Joseph Aloysius Connors, known to all TV and movie fans of the latter 20th century as Chuck Connors. From The Rifleman to The Big Country to Soylent Green, Connors had a string of hit roles that remain etched in collective memory. Today, he remains the reigning Chuck Connors of popular culture, while the original Chuck is all but forgotten.

The Reformed Gambler Who Remained Addicted to Risk (Spoiler: He Lost)

At the onset of his retelling of “The Killing of Bill The Butcher,” (The Gangs of New York, Chapter V, Section 1) Herbert Asbury paints an accurate picture of the proliferation of gambling dens and gamblers in Manhattan, circa 1850s-1860s. As Asbury notes, the extent of these gambling operations was laid out in a report made at a public meeting by Jonathan Harrington Green, executive agent for the New York Association for the Suppression of Gambling. By Green’s count (in 1851), there were over 6000 gaming establishments in the city, which flourished thanks to payoffs made by the owners to ward politicians. Asbury merely mentions that Green was a reformed gambler, and says nothing else about the man. Green, it happens, was an extremely interesting man.

Jonathan Harrington Green included autobiographical episodes in several of the books he wrote, most notably 1847’s Gambling Unmasked!; or the Personal Experience of J. H. Green and Twelve Days in the Tombs, or a Sketch of the Past Eight Years. In these he describes his early life as an apprentice, and his path toward becoming a professional gambler, starting when he was arrested for guiding a stranger to a den where the stranger was victimized by a con man running the shell game. He went on to become one of the most infamous Mississippi Riverboat gamblers of the century between 1832 and 1842.

Green revealed the cheats used by professional gamblers in a series of books, including An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling and Gambler’s tricks with cards, exposed and explained, and also Gambling in its infancy and progress. Green remains a primary source on the history of poker in America, as well as for the sleight-of-hand deceptions perfected by early gamblers.

Green’s writings make it clear that–after his reform epiphany in 1842–he viewed gambling itself as a vice, whether the games were played with or without cheating. He asserted that gambling only led to guilt and ruin, yet he appeared to have no animosity towards the games themselves, and continued to write about their history, mechanics, and strategies.

Green’s anti-gambling advocacy and books likely garnered him some income during the 1840s, but he needed a different field of endeavor to conquer. He ventured into the business of textile materials, taking an interest in the relatively new rubber industry. Green opened a rubber manufacturing factory in Trenton, New Jersey in 1850, but it failed two years later. (This was just about the same period when the Goodyear Brothers were starting to make a success in the same industry.)

Rubber was the focus of over twenty patents that Green filed over the next thirty years: Rubber coatings, rubberized fabric, painted rubber, a process to remove paint from rubber, rubber billiard cue tips, etc. He moved from New Jersey, to Indiana, Kentucky, Iowa, and Philadelphia. Along the way he enlisted in the Union Army in 1861, serving as a Captain for an Indiana infantry unit. He lost his first wife in 1863, and immediately remarried. With his second wife, he started a new family of seven children, all born after he was 50 years old.

Several biographies mention that (in the late 1850s) Green briefly worked for the U. S. Secret Service; however, that office was not established until long after Green’s experience, which was as an agent hired by the solicitor of the United States Treasury Department. In that capacity, Green was supposed to help root out counterfeiters. However, one of the men he suspected turned the tables and had Green arrested in New York City for possession of fake bills, which caused Green to spend time in jail before it was sorted out.

Green spent his last two decades in relative poverty. He had several legal entanglements, which revolved around his efforts to entice investors to provide him capital to pursue his inventions. In effect, he sought out others to gamble on his ideas–and frequently disappointed them, leading to accusations that he had misrepresented the risks.

Green became ill in Philadelphia in 1887, still responsible for many children who could not yet care for themselves. His second wife, Cinderella Chisman, had died in 1884. Most biographies assert that Green died in 1887 in Philadelphia, but he did not.

Following one of his oldest daughters, now married, to Dayton, Ohio, he entered a convalescent home for Union soldiers. He stayed there two years, and then took one last gamble: he signed himself out of the hospital on Christmas Eve, 1889. He likely spent his last year with daughter Margaret Heather Walker (later Sallume) before his death in November 1890 in Indiana. Margaret became a successful writer herself, but claimed no credit; she stated that a spirit came to her and dictated the poems and fiction she put to pen.