Dick (not Jack) the Rat

Though not directly involved in gang activities, Herbert Asbury made sure to devote some pages in The Gangs of New York to another emblematic landmark of barbarity, Kit Burns’ Sportsmen’s Hall, site of the city’s popular dog vs. rat and dog vs. dog fights. The first floor of Burns’ establishment at 273 Water Street housed a small indoor amphitheater, with wooden benches overlooking the “pit.” The floor above housed the saloon, which was described as surprisingly neat and orderly compared to the street’s other notorious dives. Burns catered to the crowd of gamblers and fans of bloodsports that inhabited lower Manhattan. The great majority of 19th-century New Yorkers viewed rat-fighting and dog fighting as deplorable a spectacle as most people do today. By the end of that century, public exhibitions of these were outlawed, but in Burns’s heyday (the 1860s) they were a permitted, though low, source of amusement. Sadly, these events can still be found today in some parts of the United States, though they have long been illegal.

According to Asbury [The Gangs of New York, Chapter III], “Another attraction of Sportsmen’s Hall was Kit Burns’ son-in-law, known as Jack the Rat. For ten cents Jack would bite the head off a mouse, and for a quarter he would decapitate a rat.”

Kit Burns (real name Christopher Keyburn) employed as his head rat wrangler his son-in-law, Richard C. Toner. Toner, known far and wide as “Dick the Rat,” was a tall, somewhat handsome English-born professional rat exterminator. The tools of his trade were a set of long tongs, burlap bags, a dark lantern (i.e. early flashlight), and occasionally, ferrets and terriers. Toner had an instinctive knowledge of rodent behavior, and could capture and kill over a hundred rats in an evening. It was a venerable trade, going back centuries. For several decades he was acknowledged as the best rat catcher in America, and owned the best rat killing dog, a terrier named Old Tom, and another champion named Blanche. Old Tom once killed 100 rats in the pit in less than fifteen minutes. Toner himself admitted that he sometimes bit the heads of rats as the quickest way to kill them, so Asbury’s anecdote was doubtless referring to him, and not a dog.

Though for many years Toner trained dogs for fights against other dogs, he took umbrage over the idea that killing rats could be considered as animal cruelty. In 1896, Toner was invited to Rochester, New York, at the invitation of hotel/saloon owner Jack Turner. However, the trip was a bust, as the Rochester Democrat reported:

“…At 7:30 o’clock last night, and after the rats had been transferred to the upper floor of Turner’s barn, where the fight was to take place, a man of medium height and who, by his general air of mystery, the proprietor immediately recognized as Humane Agent Weitzel, walked into the room. He glanced about, and seeing an unusual air of activity, surmised that things were not as they should be about the Rock Cottage. He motioned to Mr. Turner and taking him into a corner of the room, began a conversation as follows:

“‘What are you fellows going to do here tonight?’ asked Mr. Weitzel in an undertone. ‘I hear there is something on here tonight. I don’t know what it is, but I want it to stop at once. I won’t have any animals suffering while I am around.’

“The proprietor of the place believing that Mr. Weitzel had been informed that rats were to be killed at his place was ready in informing the agent that everything should be done as he wished. At the same moment one of the men was seen to disappear from the room in obedience to a wink from Mr. Turner. He hurried up to the room where the rats had been stored in anticipation of the evening’s sport, and with the assistance of a couple of men carried them to a wagon that stood outside. A horse was hurriedly hitched to the wagon and soon the rats were speeding towards the country. There were over 200 of them in the wagon and they made merry music as they being carried rapidly away.

“In this way the evidence of anything out of the ordinary was removed. The humane agent was on the point of leaving when it occurred to him to ask what kind of a sporting event had been meditated for the evening.

“‘Well, I’ll tell you, ” said Mr. Turner. ‘One of our friends has been engaged for the past week in capturing a number of rats here in the city and he was going to kill them all here tonight. I’m not going to deny it we would have had a good time watching him put an end to them.’

“At the mention of rats, Mr. Weitzel was much mollified, and expressed curiosity to see how it was done.

“‘That’s an impossibility, old man,’ said Dick the Rat, who was standing just back of the agent. ‘We’ve liberated all those rats by this time, and they are scattered all over the Third precinct.’ It must be acknowledged that Mr. Weitzel turned a shade paler when he heard this announcement, and when he remembered that his house was not far from the place where the rodents were to be let loose, his anxiety was not much decreased.

“Meanwhile…the sleigh containing the rats whirled out of Jack Turner’s front yard, and sped past a corps of officers, a laugh escaping them [the drivers]. The sleigh was driven rapidly along, in what direction the driver was later unwilling to state, but he had not proceeded far before a vigorous squeaking from the animals in the rear of the vehicle told him something was the matter.

“He stopped to investigate and found that the rats in the largest box, the one containing 105 of the pests, had become unduly hilarious at the thought of freedom so suddenly thrown within their grasp, and begun to organize a rat fight on their own account. They were making a terrible racket inside the box…He accordingly brought the horse to a halt and dragging the larger box from the sleigh…He tore one of the heavy slats from the top, then they leaped out upon the snow, and how they flew! [The driver] declares that they one and all headed straight for the heart of the city. The snow was black with them.

“Mr. Toner was seen by a reporter soon after the humane agent had left, and said, ‘I am able to prove that killing rats with dogs is far more humane than either drowning or poisoning…When a man proposes to put a trained dog into a pit filled with rats and have them killed in one-two-three order, the people try to make out that he is doing something disgraceful, when in reality he is putting them to death in the easiest way possible.

“‘I have killed rats in all of the principle cities of the country from Maine to California, and whenever it was done it was a considered a benefit to the community…I will catch no more rats in the city of Rochester, however, until there is an understanding that I shall be able to kill them in the manner that I wish to. It looks at the present time as though a person must chloroform an oyster in Rochester before he is to be allowed to open it.

“‘There were enough rats liberated tonight to stock a city the size of Rochester in a year. Rats breed very rapidly, and there is a new litter of them each month. There are a large number in each litter. I shall leave here today and will not return unless it is understood that I can catch them and kill them without interference.'”

Most people today would realize that Toner’s argument in favor of quick deaths for pests ignores the fact that his dog suffered injuries in these fights, and that extermination can be separated from conducting bloodlust spectacles for entertainment and gambling. What he was doing with the rat pit was abhorrent. But if the next pandemic to strike humanity is found to be caused by rats, will people feel differently?

Reddy the Blacksmith

During the 1860s, one of New York City’s most infamous public figures was a violent, ill-tempered, criminally-inclined saloon keeper named William Varley, popularly known as “Reddy the Blacksmith.” Varley’s nickname is a nod to his original vocation (farrier) and appearance: he had hair, beard, and a bushy mustache all of bright red. Varley was born in 1835 in Liverpool to Irish parents. Varley’s religion was never evident until he neared death from Bright’s Disease in 1876, at which time he was consoled by priests and later buried under a stone cross pedestal in Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York.

Varley’s origins and religious identification call into question his subsequent identification as a “Bowery Boy,” made by Herbert Asbury and others. During his lifetime, articles written about Varley only identified him as a leader of his own unnamed gang, not of any named gangs. The Bowery Boys of lower Manhattan thrived in the 1840s and 1850s as an anti-Catholic, anti-Irish, nativist street gang, but lost their cohesion following the Civil War. If anything, Varley fit the profile of the Dead Rabbits, not the Bowery Boys.

By the 1860s, Varley had abandoned his original vocation as a farrier, and came to prominence as a sporting figure–a gambler and trotting horse owner–and as a Tammany polling place enforcer. He opened a saloon at 7 Chatham Square, near the intersection of East Broadway and Catherine Street.

As a pickpocket and thief, Varley was anything but subtle. His usual method was to target men in his saloon or attending sporting events who were flashing money; have his accomplices surround and jostle the man; and then grab whatever was in his pockets, while the man was busy trying to fend off the rough treatment.

Varley was sent to Blackwell’s Island, the city penitentiary, in 1868 after he beat a prostitute who refused a specific proposal he made to her. On this occasion at least, Judge Joseph Dowling was unmoved by Varley’s political connections; and indeed mocked Varley for boasting of his influence.

The next year, 1869, Varley was entangled in another case in which a man was beat up and robbed in his saloon of $500.00. The only witnesses were the four men who helped “Reddy” mug the victim, but that did not prevent the victim from bringing charges. The first of the co-conspirators was tried and sentenced to fifteen years in state prison–a sign that the public had grown intolerant over Varley’s excesses. Before Varley’s case could be tried, he skipped bail and fled to San Francisco. There, city detective Isaiah Lee’s men tracked him down, and he was returned to New York to stand trial. Howe and Hummel, Varley’s defense attorneys, successfully cast doubt on the victim’s claim that he ever had the money he claims was stolen from him, and Varley was cleared.

In January 1871, Varley shot and killed Philadelphia gang leader Jimmy Haggerty during a dispute that took place in Pat Eagan’s saloon at the corner of East Broadway and Houston Street. It was a notable clash of two heavyweight toughs, who at the time were the most feared and reviled characters of their respective cities. Varley surrendered himself to authorities, claiming self-defense. While awaiting trial, Varley made headlines, first by beating his landlady, and next by attacking a streetcar conductor. He and his sporting friends then made forays to Connecticut in order to conduct illegal bare-knuckle prizefights. He was eventually acquitted of Haggerty’s death, but did little to curtail his activities. Within months, he and dance hall manager Harry Hill were arrested for providing backing to a proposed illegal prizefight, and while detained, Varley and Hill got into a fight.

“Reddy’s” activities slowed over the next several years, perhaps a sign of his growing kidney disease–a condition doubtless worsened by his heavy drinking. He died in 1876 at age 40, to the relief of all except the Tammany politicians that benefited from his vote fraud tactics.

Lazarus…Resurrected

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.

The Grand Duke’s Oprea [sic] House

One of Herbert Asbury’s more outlandish anecdotes concerns a street gang of the 1870s Five Points area known as the Baxter Street Dudes, led by “Baby-Face Willie.” (see Gangs…, Chapter XI, Section 3) The dudes set aside their ruffian inclinations to pursue thespianism, and converted a dark Baxter Street basement into a pioneer of people’s theater, called the Grand Duke’s Theater. According to Asbury, the company acquired scene props by stealing them from legitimate theaters and merchants, and after a flourish of success were beaten down by attacks from rival street gangs.

Later commentators, following Asbury’s lead, suggested that the fare offered by the Baxter Street Dudes reflected their own mean origins, and consisted of tales of robberies and killings, with many scenes of blood-letting.

While this is an entertaining image to consider, it strays far from the truth. There was no street gang known as the Baxter Street Dudes, and “Baby-Face Willie” was a fiction. However, there definitely was a Sixth Ward Baxter Street basement stage run by juveniles known as the Grand Duke’s Theater, and its true story is as every bit as wonderful as Asbury’s fable of delinquent actor wannabes, if not more so.

The boys who formed the Grand Duke’s Theater in late 1873 were a group of six to eight Sixth Ward newsies (newspaper boys) and bootblacks, ranging in age from 9-16. They came from poor or modest families, but none were known to be homeless. Though they hardly could have grown up ignorant of street crimes, they appear to have been (with a few exceptions) law-abiding. Several were quite literate, and were known to have attended school. Most of all, they were fans of popular theater, especially of productions of the Bowery theaters: variety and musical theater, i.e. what would later be known as vaudeville.

According to one of the group’s co-founders, Henry Campora, the building at 17 Baxter Street was the basement of his father’s tavern, with its own side entrance on Worth Street. Campora was the scenery painter, ticket booth operator, and usher, while the performers were managed by Pete Connors. The star performer was Terence Sullivan, who did an Irish comedy/dancing act. The other members included Miles O’Reilly, Sam and Dick Bernard, George Hawthorn, Richard Burke, Dave Conroy, and Frank Bush. Other infrequent company members (some of which might have been stage names) included Michael Kelliher, John Shay, Jack Daly, Jack Conway, James McGrath, Ed Mulcahy, Thomas Wing, Michael Boyd, and Thomas J. O’Brien.

The fare they offered consisted mainly of comedic sketches, with a heavy emphasis on blackface minstrels, along with German, Jewish, and Irish caricatures. The same type of acts were found in the most popular Bowery theaters of the time–there was no meanness or violence to speak of. However, that did not stop moralists like Dr. Thomas DeWitt Talmadge, the leading religious orator of Brooklyn and New York in the 1870s, from decrying the wickedness of the theater’s offerings. In response, the Duke’s Thomas J. O’Brien published a masterful mocking letter to the editor of The New York Herald, poking fun at “Tallrage”:

Years later, Henry Campora recalled the origins of the group:

The newspaper feature that brought the world to the boy’s candlelit basement stage was the January 17, 1874 edition of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, which ran a feature spanning 3 pages, accompanied by the engravings seen below.

Though nearly always called “The Grand Duke’s Theater,” a hand-made sign was hung by the stage announcing it as the “Grand Duke’s Oprea House,” with Opera misspelled. The Russian Grand Duke had left the United States in early 1872, so the story of his visit to the dark basement may be apocryphal; but many other notables did take in the show, including the leading theatrical producer in New York, Tony Pastor.

The Grand Duke Theater quickly ran into trouble for operating without a license, which cost $500; however, their legal issues seemed to have faded after this harassment was exposed in newspapers, and so the show went on. The boys were invited to perform at the Cooper Union Institute; and Dave Conroy and Jack Daly were invited to join a variety run at one of Pastor’s theaters. On several occasions, the boys collected their profits for a week and donated them to a benefit cause.

Several of the boys went on to have long careers in vaudeville: Sam Bernard, Dick Bernard, Dave Conroy, Jack Daly, and Frank Bush. The theater’s location at 17 Baxter Street was shuttered when Campora’s family moved to New Jersey, but in 1877-1878 the Grand Duke’s Theater reopened further east, on Water Street, with a new cast of performers. From 1874-1876, The Grand Duke’s Theater spawned some competing theaters run by boys, from which the leading comedy vaudeville duo, Lew Fields and Joe Weber, emerged.

The Grand Duke’s star, Terence Sullivan, died as a young man while swimming off the New York Battery. Another featured performer, Miles O’Reilly, was arrested at age 19 for stabbing his landlord over a rent dispute. This, however, was the only reported act of criminality associated with the theater. Their props and costumes were homemade, not stolen.

A Lost Treasure of New York: Harry Hill’s Autobiography

Herbert Asbury devotes many pages in Chapter IX, Section 2 of The Gangs of New York to the most celebrated dance hall-saloon operator of the nineteenth-century, Harry Hill. Hill was, arguably, one of the most significant figures in the history of New York City; he was a major leader in Manhattan nightlife; in its bare-knuckle boxing history; in its other sporting pastimes, including billiards, horse racing, wrestling, and swimming; and in the policing of vice businesses.

In 1880, at the height of his success, Harry was persuaded to write a serialized version of his recollections and historical anecdotes by the New York Sunday Mercury. The columns that appeared for roughly a two-year period were likely ghost-written by a reporter (one name mentioned is Pat Rooney, an unknown), but still employed Harry’s distinctive Epsom dialect and were undoubtedly largely transcribed from interviews. Had these columns been published collectively (as was obviously planned, since the series was given the title of My Life; or Thirty Years in Gotham) the resulting tome would have been huge–perhaps spanning more than one volume.

A few years later, in 1885-1886, more columns attributed to Harry Hill appeared, but these definitely had another hand behind them: Isaac George Reed, Jr., a veteran reporter and writer. In advertisements for his later novels, Reed announced himself as the author of Thirty Years in Gotham, though there is still no proof that it was ever published in book form.

For reasons unknown, the book never materialized. Moreover, nearly all issues of the New York Sunday Mercury for the years 1880 and 1881 have not survived. Harry Hill’s autobiography is one of the great lost artifacts of New York City. A few columns (or parts of columns) were reprinted in other newspapers, and provide an inkling of the magnitude of what has been lost. But an even better measure of the vanished treasure can be found in the advertisements that the Sunday Mercury placed in other newspapers each week, which described the contents of each of Harry’s columns. This, too, is incomplete, but the list below has been pieced together. It gives no pleasure to say how much more significant this book would have been than The Gangs of New York:

My Life; or, Thirty Years in Gotham

By Harry Hill

Blurb

A full and complete account of the bustling and miscellaneous career of the most “peculiar” man in America, written by himself.

This narrative comprises all the attraction of a romance with that absolute fidelity to truth for which Harry Hill is so famous.

It embraces recollections of Old Houston street—Famous murders and murderers; actors, variety and specialty stars; sports; female boxers; prize fighters; politicians; newspaper men; clergymen; temperance men and men about town. It presents New York life in every possible phase, and deals with matters of interest to the public in general and the New York public in particular.

Introduction

I have lived in New York city for over thirty years; I have known all sorts of men; I have made and spent a good deal of money; I have had a good time and never willfully wronged any man that I know of; I have met sports and thieves, and gamblers, and editors, and reporters, and actors, and speculators, and men about town; I have been a fighter and a referee in fights; I have entertained in my time politicians, and millionaires, and forgers, and confidence men, and ministers; I have tried all sorts of rackets; have held prayer meetings and temperance meetings, and ran a variety show and Sunday concerts, and delivered a lecture and swung clubs; I have had hundreds of articles, right and wrong, true and false, written about me; I know all about horseflesh and the police; I have met in the course of thirty years pretty nearly all the men worth knowing in the city of New York; I have been written up and written down, used, abused and blackmailed; have made lots of friends and enemies; so at last I have taken a notion to write my own life. I think it will be interesting. I have known so many people in my time that just as recollections of old New York—or as a kind of history of old Houston street—I think my life will be worth reading.

4/11/1880 CHAPTER

This celebrated man’s personal encounters—His fight with Billy Mulligan—His tussles with Jim Hughes, Reddy the Blacksmith, Paddy the Smasher and Jim Thompson—What he has done in the sporting line—Female boxers—Famous prize fighters—An attack on Jimmy Irving—A would-be boxer and his fate—Notable sparring matches, etc.

4/18/1880 CHAPTER

Mr. Hill tells the story of three notable prize fights: Morrissey vs. Yankee Sullivan; Morrissey vs. Hernan; Hernan vs. Sayres—How I acted as reporter and special messenger—Reminiscences of the great excitement—What I know about walking—Big running matches—Walking a plank—How they sold out matches—Practical jokes in old Houston street—The dead horse joke—A trip to the fishing banks—My doorkeeper sees ghosts—Animal curiosities—My two-legged dogs, humpbacked horse and monkey Sammy—His arrest for attacking a shop girl, etc.

4/25/1880 CHAPTER

The fight between Coburn and McCool—About the man who didn’t care for science—How a giant was mistaken for a prize fighter—The mills between New York and Brooklyn—Dick Hollywood and Johnny Keating—Mike Nunan and Dorsey, of New York—The fun we used to make—The catsup dodge—Cruelty to cats—Some more of the old times at my theatre—How they kidded and guyed each other—A gilt boot and a mouthful of water, etc.

5/2/1880 CHAPTER

New York and Philadelphia—Dublin Tricks—How a fighter was killed in the ring—Fatal contest between Charley Lynch and Andy Kelly—Fighting under the pirate’s colors—85 rounds in 105 minutes—Dying among barbarians—Distinguished foreigners who have visited my place—Don Carlos, the Duke Alexis, A Russian Countess, etc.—A Chinese ambassador falls in love with a waiter girl—Reminiscences of gamblers—How they fought the tiger in olden times—The heavy players and the lucky ones, etc.

5/9/1880 CHAPTER

How a blonde with 25 offers was wooed and won in 24 hours—The “Man of Many Manias”—The way to win a cup without dancing for it—What Johnny Barry tried for his hair—Why I hurled a rough from the top of a freight car going 15 miles an hour—Scenes at the O’Baldwin Mace contest—The Collins Edwards mill—All hands arrested, and how we got out of the scrape—How I lost a bottle of wine with Dooney Harris—The old-time politicians and their practical jokes—What I knew about Tweed and Sweeny—Billy Cook and his Thompson street flat—Pranks of Judge George G. Barnard and Mike Walsh, etc.

5/16/1880 CHAPTER

The desperate gang who witnessed the Collyer-Edwards fight—How a little girl gave a cup of water to a dying rough—Mill between Australian Kelly and Kerrigan—How a hardshell Baptist deacon “stuck the boys”—Boston vs. New York in the P.R.—Peculiar lights and shades of lights at my show, Three Suppers for Twelve Shirts—How my doorkeeper took tickets with a club—A grinning match that lasted all day—Old barrooms and barkeepers of New York—Barnum’s practical joke—The man with a whole shirt on his back—Reminiscences of Burton, Blake, Tom Hyer and Yankee Sullivan, etc.

5/23/1880 CHAPTER

The old tiger haunts of Gotham—How Charley Abel fooled the whole city–Jim Kerrigan and Pat Matthew’s fight—All over the old Bowery Theatre—My fat boy—Shaving ‘em by the lot—Female boxers extraordinary—Old times in the prize ring—How Yankee Sullivan got “first blood” on Vince Hammond—The terrible offhand fight between Tom Hyer and Country McCloskey—Tom McCoy’s fatal encounter with Chris Lilly—Reminiscences of old theatres and stock companies of New York—The fathers and mothers of our actors, stories of the elder Wallack, Blake, Ritchings and  the others—How Maurice Power failed, etc.

5/30/1880 CHAPTER

Hiram Woodruff and the famous drivers of old time trotters—Budd Doble—George Spicer, Ben Daniels, the Wheelans and Jimmy McMann—How Hiram Woodruff got frightened at a thunderstorm—The Great trot between Lady Thorn, Goldsmith Maid and American Girl—Personal peculiarities of Flora Temple and Lady Thorn—A butting match at the old sawdust house—How a belle fell in love with a rough—First “muss” between Yankee Sullivan and Tom Hyer—Account of the great mill in which Tom Hyer licked Yankee Sullivan—What I know about crooked people—How I beat the sharps of London at their own game—The episode of “Opera Jack”—A romance of New York and London, etc.

6/5/1880 CHAPTER

Dodging the police—How I was a sergeant for twenty minutes—My encounter with the military—Fired out—Prize fighting under difficulties—Reminiscences of the great horse race between the north and the south—Henry and Eclipse draw 60,000 people to the Union course—How New York went to the races a long time ago—The old merchant and the Baltimore Belle—Cruelty to animals—How a countryman fooled the cops—Lights and shades of life at my saloon—How I was mistaken for a pirate—The poor stowaways—My theatre as an ark of refuge—An old-time barber—Drunk on bay rum—Why Ned Forrest got mad—The first time E. S. Connor swallowed a fly, etc.

6/13/1880 CHAPTER

Old rivalries of volunteer firemen—All about the first steam fire engine—Hand-to-hand fights between old 27 and 34—How Tweed organized Big Six—Original negro minstrels—Old time banjo players—Champion match dancers—Barnum’s Museum against Pete Williams’ Dance House—Why I employ women—Romance of a pretty waiter girl—Shaving a man and his wife—Anecdotes of actors, etc.

6/20/1880 CHAPTER

Celeste! The great actress’s infatuation for Elliott, the sporting man—How she made money and he squandered it on four-in-hands, and died at last in poverty amid “the memories of the past”—All about Mademoiselle Augusta, Mrs. Seguin, Mrs. Abbott, and other favorite actresses of by-gone days—Recollections of Burton, Brougham, and Boucicault—Curious phases of sporting life—The way they used to beat gambling houses—A duel to the death—How men of business take vacation at my place—Oddities and eccentricities of rich customers—The dancing lawyer—“Where am I?”—Looking for Harry Hill’s—Driving a “Rainbow”

6/27/1880 CHAPTER

John Morrissey and his rough and tumble fights—His musses with Dutch Charley, Billy Wilson, and Tom McCann—His fight on the dock with Bill Poole—The great mill between Morrissey and Sullivan—All about the old fire club and its pranks—How a Southern man won six weeks’ supper from the boys—A barkeeper who ran off with his boss’ sister—the old time concert saloons—The Monte Cristo, the Canterbury and 444—Topsey and her story—How pretty waiter girls influenced legislation—Cheek illustrated—A sport who lost $105,000 in gold dust for the honor of New York—Sending the limit “plumb up”

8/22/1880 CHAPTER

Two of the most terrific and picturesque prize fights on record—A vivid account of the great Cortlandt Street Murder—On of the most famous tragedies—An amusing history of amateur theatricals in New York—Fernando Wood, William M. Tweed, &c. as dramatic aspirants

8/29/1880 CHAPTER

Did Mrs. Cunningham murder Dr. Burdell?—Was James Fisk, Jr. murdered or only accidentally killed?—Regarding the Roget Conspiracy trial—A case of mistaken identity—A merchant whipping his grown up son—Anecdotes of William M. Tweed’s father—Barnum’s Old American Museum—The different “systems” in vogue for “beating the bank” at faro, or “bucking against the tiger.”

9/5/1880 CHAPTER

Longest prize fight on record, one hundred and sixty rounds—How a prominent New York lawyer once figured in the prize ring—The Price-Coburn mill—Morrissey and Heenan fighting their quarrels through Ned Price and Australian Kelly—Anecdotes of the “smart” men of New York—The “Damper sneak”—Only a button, and what came of it—The quickest detective time on record—Reminiscences of Pete Williams’ dance house—Black Jim, the jumper—How a negro woman got even with a white man for kicking her shin—Bully Anderson’s den

9/12/1880 CHAPTER

Whose head was it? A mystery which has never yet been solved—How facts can lie—Another demonstration of the worthlessness of circumstantial evidence—A husband meets his murdered wife on the street, while he is tracking her assassin—A woman sees her own corpse—A mother who is mistaken as to the identity of her own daughter—A true story of mysterious death and detective life in the great metropolis

9/19/1880 CHAPTER

The philosophy of hitting—Dooney Harris’ mill with Patsey Marley, illustrating what studying will do—How I tackled an Englishman, and didn’t have so easy a job as I expected—Peculiarities of Chauncey Johnson, the bank robber—Brain, brass, and burglary—Science of stealing illustrated by a daring operation—Marshal Rynders and the old Empire Club—An old time raid on Mayor Harper—A triangular trade, showing how a man bought his own horse

9/26/1880 CHAPTER

Revelations of the river thieves of New York—The execution of Saul and Howlett, what became of the rogue who turned state’s evidence against them—A loving woman’s vengeance—An exposure of card sharpers—Why a celebrated faro dealer mysteriously disappeared—Investigating a pack of cards with a pistol—“Auld lang syne” again—The great city hotel sell—A famous old barber—A chapter in the early life of Fernando Wood.

10/2/1880 CHAPTER

The Blonde fever—During the rage for yellow hair and tights—Behind the scenes anecdotes of Lydia Thompson, Pauline Markham, Liza Weber, Kate Stanley, Ada Garland, and others—What became of the blondes—A serio-comic fist contest between New York and Philadelphia—Harry Lazarus as a fighter—Getting out of a scrape through aid of the ladies—political strikers—How the boys used to bleed candidates for office—Independent clubs—An irrepressible representative of a target company—How general John Cochrane was victimized

10/9/1880 CHAPTER

“Josie” Mansfield dying—The former “Princess of Erie” under an assumed name hiding in New York—Wasting away with consumption ad remorse—Her wild career abroad after the shooting of Jim Fisk—The rich young fool who was driven to suicide in Paris—The repentant adventuress as a sister of mercy—The modern Mary Magdalen in her library—She speaks of herself, of Stokes, of Fisk, and of Gould—Last words of a once famous woman

10/16/1880 CHAPTER

Tricks in politics—All about colonizing voters and repeating—Stuffing ballot boxes—The men who didn’t vote till after the polls closed—Romance of crime in New York—How a detective set a trap and narrowly escaped with his life—The abolition riots—The price a merchant paid for pinching a pretty woman’s arm.

10/24/1880 CHAPTER

Frauds of faro—Skin games and card sharpers, the mystery of their tricks fully exposed, and their dishonest machinery laid bare: the tongue tell, sleeve machines, two card boxes, “snaking” faro boxes, etc.

11/6/1880 CHAPTER

Theatrical insanities–The way New York went wild over Jenny Lind, etc.—The romance of the express business—How a New Yorker gave a New England man an idea worth a million dollars a word.

11/14/1880

Slim Sarah’s first shadow, scenes and incidents of her first night at Booth’s, which escaped attention of the critics—The fate of a woman bully—Handsome Jack McCarty—Revelations of sporting life below the surface—Foot races in the olden time—Exciting contest of the Union and Beacon courses—A fatal glass of water—Life in Ludlow street jail twenty years ago—The comic side of misery—The dying Dutchman and the actor

11/27/1880 CHAPTER

A notable blackmail case—The scheme to fleece William B. Astor out of $50,000—The E. K. Basswood Job, a very singular case—Horses and horsemen of the past and present—anecdotes and romances of the American turf—“Wake me up when Kirby dies,” a popular performer who came to grief—How a loafer was punished by John Duff for slandering Mrs. John Wood

4/3/1881 CHAPTER

The Brandreth House murder and the Metropolitan Hotel murderer—The broker and the blonde—Sentimental adventures on Blackwell’s Island—Escape from a champion kisser—Bounty jumping frauds during the Civil War

5/22/1881 CHAPTER

Lynching New York gamblers—A thrilling story of the “days of terror” to gamblers

7/9/1881 CHAPTER

The doctors quarrel over Garfield—Revival of a thrilling episode—Strange and bloody duel between two physicians—How a great actress came between man and wife without knowing it—The love scrapes of Charlotte Cushman—A life’s romance culminating in a linen draper’s store—One of the most curious of all possible divorce cases—An old-new husband and wives one and two—Reminiscences of the Draft Riots in New York—The three days of terror—Reign of mob law in defiance of military and police—Hanging of a negro in Hudson street—Awful death of Colonel O’Brien, of the Eleventh Regiment—Butchered within a few yards of his own home—A practical joke that convulsed sporting New York—A case of mistaken identity at the Nicholas—Major Lewis, of the Quartermaster’s Department—The Broadway clubhouse and its eccentric visitor—How some sporting men were “astonished” by the man who knew everybody.

8/27/1881 CHAPTER

The loss of the Lexington—The great steamboat accident of the last generation—A terrible story of disaster—The graves of the trotters—A cemetery by a race course—The lives of Lady Moscow and Lady Sultan—Romance and passion of horseflesh—Racing in the dark—A curious character in New York—The man who knows everything at home and abroad.

10/1/1881 CHAPTER

How a New Yorker captured the first confederate flag—A romantic and exciting adventure of the early days of the great rebellion—The toilet on the roof—Obstacles overcome by obstinacy—Waddlin’ and makin’ a Daddy Lambert of one’s self—A lady on the lark—A practical joke at Taylor’s old saloon—Why so many men all at once were found reading the Tribune—The tribulations of a bank director and a politician—An army of fools marchin’ along Broadway—An unexpected revelation and “sold at last”—The days when roughs controlled the sports of old New York—Nights when “faro bankers” had to hire “bullies” to do their fightin’—A prize fight in a gambling den—A blackmailer who would not be blackmailed—Pat the Smasher—Some stories about Billy Mulligan.

10/16/1881 CHAPTER

The last appearances of popular favorites—How prominent actors, actresses, managers, minstrels, etc. have died—The wretched fates of Goodall, Perry, Adams, Christy, Hanlon, “Gentleman George” and host of others.

10/23/1881 CHAPTER

Curious reminiscences of New York “society” and its connection with the stage—A plucky New York Quakeress—Why a famous musician suddenly left the country—How a “great American tenor” came to grief—An Englishman who did not “capture” New York—the Russian emperor and the American mother-in-law—Early days of billiards in New York—Old fashioned tables and styles of playing—“Pony” Higham and Mike Phelan—The first public billiard match—Fancy shots and good nature—The adventures of two old-time billiard sharps—A fight on the green cloth—Dyin’ on a table—A disputed game—The penitent thief—The pathos of criminal life in New York—A rogue who became honest for a woman’s sake—How a “crooked” man became “square”—The penalties of “reform”—Virtue is its own and only reward—The life and death of  “Lightnin’-eyed Bob.”

12/18/1881 CHAPTER

John Brown’s body in New York—How it was guarded by fire ladies in the Bowery—Peculiar scenes and incidents—Smart criminal dodges to fool the doctors—How a pronounced dead man made his escape—Jenny Lind’s platonic lover—Romantic incident of her last appearance in America—A millionaire’s firm belief in luck—How a noted actor made his debut on the stage from a bag—Jim Crow Rice and Joe Jefferson—A reminiscence of Bill Tweed’s early days—How he showed his heart

Gib Yost Cracks His Vault

The name of Gilbert Yost appears twice in The Gangs of New York, in different sections of Chapter X, which deals with the career of bank robber George L. Leslie. Asbusy repeats some fairly well-established connections between Leslie and Yost: that they were arrested together in 1870 for a Norristown, Pennsylvania jewelry robbery; and that in 1878 Yost shared a Brooklyn house with other famous thieves suspected of murdering Leslie: Shang Draper, Johnny Irving, Sam Perris, etc. These claims appeared in newspapers not long after Leslie’s death, and are based on files on Leslie compiled by the Pinkerton Detective Agency, which had been tracking the thief.

Ever since George L. Leslie was killed, accounts of his criminal career began to suface portraying him as a suave, romantic, criminal mastermind: a meticulous planner who understood the architecture of banks, the mechanics of combination safes, and how to rehearse break-ins so that they could be pulled off with clockwork precision. Gib Yost, it was said, appeared to most people to the exact opposite. Judges and prosecutors mistook him for a country bumpkin. As certain times, he spoke gibberish and was sent to lunatic asylums. His only legitimate trade was as a canal boatman. However, within the criminal underworld, Yost might have been more valued and respected for his thieving ingenuity than the “king of heists” Leslie.

Yost was finally trapped by the Pinkertons in Chicago for a jewelry store robbery committed in LaPorte, Indiana. In 1884 he was sent to the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City to serve a fourteen year sentence. Barely two years into his stretch, news of his demise was announced by Robert Pinkerton:

Thus ended the career of Gibert “Gib” Yost, cracksman. Or did it? A month later, the Brooklyn Union cast doubt on his demise:

However, no further rumors or indicators of Yost’s survival saw the light of day. Three years after his announced death, his mechanical legacy lived on:

“Were it not known that Gib Yost is dead–for he died in Michigan City Prison, Indiana, while serving a term for robbery in Laporte, Ind.–there would be no hesitation in pronouncing him the inventor of this new device.”

Plug Uglies, Unplugged

In The Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury frequently mentions the Plug Uglies as one of the city’s notorious gangs, but offers very little detail about them: their leaders, when they flourished, the neighborhood that spawned them, their demise, etc. (See Gangs…, Chapter VI, Section 2 for one specific claim). The Plug Uglies of the 1850s were indeed a terrible gang of rowdies who engaged in street fights, beat and killed innocent civilians (“furriners”), and controlled polling places during city elections. Like the Bowery Boys, they were xenophobic thugs heavily aligned with the American (Know-Nothing) Party that flourished in that decade. However, the city that the Plug Uglies swaggered through and terrorized was not New York–it was Baltimore. They made one or two occasional forays to Washington, DC and Philadelphia, but not to New York City.

Asbury does not mention it, but there was one contemporary report that Plug Uglies had journeyed northward to join the 1863 Draft Riots in New York. It appeared in the New York Times on July 16, 1863, and referred to events of the previous day. The Times building itself was under siege; what little information the editors received was from police officials. Without trained reporters to witness events, they relied on hearsay.

“The scoundrels and roughs–the Blood Tubs and Plug Uglies of Baltimore, and the Schuylkill Rangers and other rowdies of Philadelphia are reported to have come to the city in large numbers to make common cause with the Dead Rabbits, Mackerelvillers, and other leading spirits of the riot in their work of carnage and plunder.”

Note the phrase “are reported,” which means, “we were told this, but can not confirm it.”

The Plug Uglies did not exist at that point. They had been broken up by a reform local government crackdown in Baltimore in 1860, and what remnants survived fled the arrival of Union troops when the Civil War started and headed south to Virginia to support the Confederacy. The Dead Rabbits–largely Irish and Catholic–would have been the traditional mortal enemies of Plug Uglies.

It seems that whenever street protests devolve into riots, there is always a claim made by authorities that violent outside agitators have arrived as reinforcements.

Big Josh Hines, Criminal Chameleon

To Herbert Asbury, Big Josh Hines was a feared member of the Whyos, who barged into Manhattan’s stuss parlors (gambling dens where a variation of faro was played) waving revolvers in each hand, demanding a share of the house profits. (see Gangs…, Chapter XI, Section 1). To city police departments around the country, he was a notorious “spark grafter,” i.e. a pickpocket specializing in the theft of jewels from a person wearing them. In New York, prosecutors were convinced that Hines was a murderer, shooting and killing another pickpocket in 1899, “Big Stretch” alias John McGann, in a saloon during a dispute over the proceeds of a crime. To Pinkerton Detective Morris Glatt, Hines was (according to some accounts) a vengeful specter who drove him to suicide. For more than a century, this criminal’s true name was unknown: John Murray, Joshua Hines, Robert Hayes, and Richard F. Harden were some of his aliases.

There is evidence for all the above claims–even for the one that caused Asbury to mention Hines: that Hines was a Whyo gang member. Hines was already an ex-convict when arrested in New York in 1889 at age 22, so it is possible that he was a young member in the early 1880s. As has been mentioned in other blog posts, by the 1890s all the notable true Whyos were dead or jailed. However, the term was still applied to the whole community of Bowery-based pickpockets and small-time thieves. Hines spent much of his time in Lower Manhattan when he wasn’t roaming the country with other pickpockets, following large crowd events. He was doubtless bolstered by his clean-cut, smooth-faced appearance.

He was born Richard Francis Hines in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1863. However, by 1880 the family was fatherless, and could be found living in a tenement in Lower Manhattan. According to the Albany Argus of June 30, 1895, Hines’s first arrest took place in Washington, D. C., in 1884, when he was picking pockets at Grover Cleveland’s inauguration. The same year he was sentenced to three years in prison in New York City. He was arrested again in October 1887 while working the crowd at the Danbury, Connecticut Fair. His 1889 arrest for grabbing money out of a man’s pocket on Broadway near Pearl Street resulted in a two-and-a-half year sentence at Sing Sing. In 1894, Hines and three other pickpockets were nabbed for working the crowds at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and the Corbett-Mitchell prizefight in Jacksonville, Florida. Hines escaped prosecution, but two of the four were jailed. In 1895, he was detained when caught working the audience of the Tammany Hall Association parade in New York City.

Hines shot “Big Stretch” in a saloon in 1899, but the NYPD could not find a single witness willing to testify against him, so the charges were dropped. In 1906, Hines was alleged to have been a member of the Five Points Gang that raided several stuss parlors and held guns to the foreheads of the game bankers, demanding a share of the house profits. There may have been an ethnic element to this: the Five Points Gang was mainly an Irish/Italian gang led by Paul Kelly, while stuss shops often were the game of choice in Jewish communities. Newspapers claimed that the gang was desperate to get money in order to gamble on a locally-owned racehorse who had just won a race at 100 to 1 odds.

In 1907, Hines was arrested in Ballston, New York after picking pockets at the Saratoga races. He offered an alias, but one of the detectives who identified him was Morris Glatt, who was formerly a pickpocket and had known Hines. Thanks to the identification made by Glatt, Hines was sent to Auburn State Prison at Dannemora for a five-year sentence. While behind bars, Hines allegedly sent several threatening letters to Glatt, who was working as a railroad detective. Glatt committed suicide just before Hines was released, leading many to believe that he was haunted by the threats of revenge sent by Hines. However, Glatt’s co-workers declared that Glatt had no fear of any criminals, and suspected other causes.

Robert F. Hines had no documented crimes after leaving prison in 1911. He returned to Brooklyn, where his brothers lived, and worked as a clerk. By 1928, Hines was 65 years old, living alone as a boarder, and in bad health. He turned on the gas in his room and put the tube in his mouth. He was found dead a few hours later.

Michael McGloin, Populist Tough

There isn’t much in Herbert Asbury’s mentions of gang leader Mike McGloin that is correct (see The Gangs of New York, Chapter XI, Section 1). McGloin was not a Whyo, although they were contemporaries. McGloin and his gang flourished in the Twentieth ward, several wards distant from the Bloody Sixth Ward haunt of the Whyos. The Twentieth included most of the area identified as Hell’s Kitchen. Although one newspaper mentions McGloin being a member of the “Eighth Avenue Gang,” from 1882 forward it was known as the “McGloin Gang.” It was still called by this name seven or eight years after his 1883 execution for murder, a tribute to his unusual populist appeal.

Michael E. McGloin was about twenty years old when he was hanged in March 1883 for the murder of saloon-keeper Louis Hanier in December 1881. McGloin and three of his associates had unsuccessfully attempted to rob the till of Hanier’s saloon the day before, during regular hours. They came back the next day and broke in; Hanier started to come down to the saloon from the upstairs through a dark stairwell. McGloin thought Hanier was armed and fired a shot up the stairs, hitting and killing Hanier. Through good police-work (which included Inspector Byrnes’s use of a expert to match the caliber of the fatal bullet to a pawned revolver), McGloin was tracked down, interrogated, and admitted to the crime. [Note that Asbury’s version is that McGloin was interrupted by Hanier as he was stealing from the till, and that McGloin hit him with a “slung-shot”, i.e. a black-jack.]

McGloin was jailed for a year before he was executed, during which time it was widely reported that he wrote and received dozens of letters from his well-wishers. The most accurate version of his famous quote was related by McGloin himself, recounting what he said when one of his gang members told him Hanier was dead: “A man can’t be a ‘tough’ till he knocks his man out.” Many, including Asbury, have interpreted this as meaning murder was a real merit badge for gangsters (as tear-drop tattoos have been in recent times), but it’s also possible that McGloin was just making an inappropriate boxing analogy.

McGloin had been in trouble before as a teen. He had served prison terms before for stealing a barrel of sugar; and again for assault and battery. It was said that McGloin and his gang had their own wagon, and used it to steal goods from other delivery men. They were also known for till-tapping, i.e. stealing from cash drawers. Their headquarters was a saloon operated by an African-American man named Cooley. One of the interesting aspects of the McGloin Gang (post-McGloin) is that it had African-American gang members.

A huge throng of hundreds of people appeared for McGloin’s funeral procession–a fact that shocked many in New York, and raised calls to bury executed prisoners on prison grounds. McGloin appeared to be honest in his confession, and wrote words of cheer while on death row to his neighborhood friends. Even so, looking back a hundred and forty years, it is difficult to fathom why he came to be revered.

Whyo Who-o?

Ever since the demise of their most recognized leaders in the late 1880s, the Whyos Gang of New York City’s “Bloody Sixth” Ward (with Five Points as its center) has had more misinformation printed about it than any other gang mentioned by Asbury. The first point to clarify is where the Whyos operated. The Sixth ward was bounded by the Bowery to the east, Broadway to the west, Canal Street to the north, and Park Row to the South, and lay just north of City Hall Park in Lower Manhattan. Its reputation for poverty, vice, crime, and street violence stretched back decades, to at least the 1820s.

Asbury muddied the waters considerably in his Chapter on the Whyos (Chapter XI), but even some accounts published in the 1890s began to use the term “Whyos” generically, applying it to almost any young street criminal in lower Manhattan. However, Asbury was far off-base by citing the histories of Mike McGloin, Piker Ryan, Johnny Dolan, Denver Hop, and others in the same chapter as real Whyos, like Daniel Driscoll and Dan Lyons.

It would serve everyone better to forget Asbury’s chapter on the Whyos, and instead read the classic feature article reprinted below, a full-page history of the gang from the December 27th, 1891 edition of the New York Herald. The author was never given a byline, but his treatment of the Whyos is nothing short of Homeric. This gem tells you all the important names you need to know about the Whyos: Felix Lavelle (Scotchy’s brother), the proto-Whyo; Daniel Driscoll, the king of the Whyos; Dan Lyons, his ferocious heir; Owen Bruen, the crafty survivor, as well as lesser lights like Kid Hunt, Poll Sullivan, Hoggy Walsh, Con Rice, the Harrington brothers, the Hallissy brothers, and Peter “Googy” Corcoran. The language is unique to a certain period of American journalism. Drink it in:

The Whyos

As it looks out upon the former haunts of the Whyos it seems to wear a satisfied expression. For the New York Tombs has an expression. It is night, and the gusty lamps of Center street are winking in the winter wind that sweeps forever up from the big square, at the New York City hall a few blocks distant. To the belated pedestrian, it looks like a huge gray monster lying on its belly like a snake, showing its teeth like a griffin. Its teeth are those low, thick, tusk-like pillars. Its eyes are those narrow windows.

And as it crouches there with the latter half of its monstrous shape hidden in the shadows, that grimly humorous expression seems to be assumed when the narrow windows are lighted up at dusk, Then the eyes seem to blink. The tusk-like pillars seem in the half light to he set in a ghastly grin. It would not surprise me if the jaws beneath the blinking eyes should open and the monster’s black throat emit with a chuckle the syllables which have so often mocked its ears.

“Why—oh! Why—oh!”

For the Tombs has swallowed the Whyos, whose call–musical, alert, the light infantry bugle call of crime–mocked its dread echoes for ten long years and more, and only from within its cavernous viscera shall sound of them be further heard of men. When into its jaws fell the Harringtons, accused by Italian witnesses of a crime in the streets of New York–the assassination of Thomas Hunt–which from all its features—revenge in motive, luring-and lying in wait in execution–might seem more aptly one for New Yorkers to have accused Italians of in the streets of Palermo, the last of the Whyos had “tackled” his last “lush,” carried his last “gun.”

It has swallowed all those who have not swallowed themselves or each other, and the list of the leaders who met in a Chatham street saloon thirteen years ago and thence spread that cry through the labyrinthine mazes of the dark triangle between Centre and Chatham streets, Canal street and the City hall, is this, with the process of deglutition:

“Hoggy” Walsh, burglar, ten years; Jack Shea, thief, died insane in prison; Felix Lavelle, woman murderer, life; James Fitzgerald, thief, in prison; Peter Corcoran, thief; in prison; Daniel Driscoll, woman murderer, hanged; Owen Bruen, thief; nine years and five months for assault; Dennis Harrington, waiting trial for murder; William Hallisay, waiting trial for murder; Thomas Hallissy, waiting trial for murder. And these have swallowed themselves or been swallowed of each other: Daniel Lyons, killed by citizen in self-defence; “Sass” Suggero, killed by citizen in self-defence; Thomas Hunt, murdered by Whyos; Billy McGlory, attempted murder, just sentenced to Sing Sing.

The Whyo organization was founded at the Five Points in the latter seventies. It was many months later before its musical call “Whyo” was found to have a distinct meaning. The echo used to follow quick in the wake of crime. If a wayfarer was struck down, cries of Whyo soon resounded. No other gang had that musical call. No other gang had so Turpinesquely daring a leader as Danny Driscoll, as elusive a one as Bruen, who respectively succeeded Walsh and Fitzgerald, the founders of the dynasty. No other gang had the high lineage of the Five Points behind it. No other gang flourished in a precinct which could show 4,500 arrests in a single year in a single block—that on Mulberry street, between Park and Bayard, known as “The Bend.” No other gang ruled a street (Pell) with a record of ninety years in sentences for its denizens out of a single week’s arrests, and no other gang could show such a high percentage of violent deaths, of assaults on policemen, of wanton crime for the sake of crime.

From 1878 until 1884 must be called the golden age of the gang. In the latter year the little Chatham street coterie was estimated to have grown to about one hundred and fifty in number, although not one quarter of these were probably true Whyos acting under the direction of their leaders.

Every lad who had the courage to follow a drunken “slummer” out of McGlory’s Armory hall, which flourished in Hester street in the Whyo golden age, till he fell exhausted in his tortuous path toward a Third avenue car, called himself a Whyo. So did every young worse-than-rough who squired a pipe-loving damsel in any one of the fourteen opium joints, which in the golden age found shelter in one big building, known as the “Big Flats,” at Canal and Elizabeth streets. But actual membership in the gang meant more than an ability to repeat the musical call, with its sharp inflection rising almost to falsetto on the first syllable and the low, long-drawn baritone note of its second. It meant that a way would be found to dispose of stolen goods. It meant also that considerable political influence would be exerted in behalf of a captured Whyo.

Those who followed Dan Driscoll and Owney Bruen—never committed a robbery in person, or, at least, never were caught at one. In their own parlance they “stood for the stuff.” The band of thieves under their direction operated almost at random in their bailiwick, prowled forth at night almost like ragpickers by day, seeking treasure trove in the human refuse about the surrounding dives, and returned at morn to leave their plunder disposed of and their percentage awarded.

It was in these night excursions that the cry was used. When two or three of them would dart out of a dark tenement hallway and swoop down upon the staggering passerby, another would watch at the corner, and if the victim’s cries had set a blue-coat moving to his rescue the high note and the low note would ring out its warning—“Why-o Why-o!”

The police did not at first comprehend the case, either in its immediate purpose of warning or as a symbol of banded lawlessness. When the first Whyo attained the dignity of murder no one knew that he was a Whyo or that there was a gang. This was Felix Lavelle, Dan Driscoll’s prototype, who killed a woman, but only suffered for his crime the penalty of life imprisonment, though the murder was a far more Whyoish crime than the attempt on the life of John McCarthy, which ended in the death of “Beezie” Garrity.

Lavelle, although he had been graduated through the Catholic Protectory, and the House of Refuge to the penitentiary for robbing and assault, was, like most of the gang, of decent parentage and retained acquaintance, the social ostracism machine of the Sixth ward not being in particularly good working order, with decent people. A month before he met pretty Sarah Hayden on Christmas day, 1878, at White and Centre streets, she had been pretty Sarah Sullivan and he had been, convict though he was, a suitor for her hand.

Doubtless the girl bride’s heart overflowed with good will as she tripped up Centre street from her home at No. 46 that afternoon. Love’s young dream, which is just as radiant in Whyoland as Arcadia, was unbroken yet, and Christmas cheer and salutations had painted its prisms to even brighter hues. Felix Lavelle, her rejected suitor, stood on the corner of White street as the girl came along, neat and rosy and dressed in her holiday and bridal best, perhaps the prettiest human thing on the East Side on Christmas day. She saw the lonely Whyo and felt sorry for him. Poor Felix, all the world had been against him. So out of her store of happiness she gave him a pleasant smile and word.

The Whyo mind misinterprets every good action. What the girl meant for kindness the Whyo took for conquest. He stepped close to her with the light of desire in his shifty Whyo eyes. There was an instant’s parley. Then the bride’s rosy cheeks flushed to a deeper crimson of shame and indignation. With an insulted toss of her head she passed on.

Passed on, yes, but not far. The flame of wrath burned low in the shifty Whyo eyes and then leaped up into the flame of hate.

“Will you take that, then?” was what poor Sarah Hayden heard, next, and before she knew what “that” was which had been substituted for his original proposition a pistol cartridge cracked, a pistol bullet sped, a pistol muzzle smoked on the holiday air and Richard Hayden’s young wife—she was little more than half through her teens—lay gasping on the Centre street pavement, her life blood staining her bridal and holiday finery.

Such was the merry Christmas the Whyo gave her, and death brought her a happy New Year one week later in St. Vincent’s hospital.

The next legal holiday of Washington’s birthday, 1870, saw Felix Lavelle on his way to Sing Sing. The day before, Feb. 21, when Judge Barrett had sentenced him to life, his pious sister had lifted her eyes to the grimy General Session’s ceiling which shut out heaven from her view and cried out, ”0h, Lord Jesus, is my poor brother to be taken from me forever?” and fell fainting to the floor. Thus did the first Whyo murderer set a high Whyo type of crime. But none knew that he was a Whyo, or what Whyos were, and the only effect of his conviction was to debar him from participation in the glories of the gang. Those glories grew in every Sixth ward street during the early years of the 80’s. Skulls fractured by “falls” threatened to grow as plentiful as cut fingers at the Chambers Street hospital. Driscoll, the new leader, fired nightly by the rum which the proceeds of the frequent robberies brought him, ranged Chatham street as boldly as an outlaw might the main street of an Idaho mining camp.

While they confined themselves to robberies in the maze of streets crisscrossing from Chatham square through or about the Points to Centre street or to undetected manslaughter in the same localities, or to assaults which-might be “squared,” the Whyos were safe. But when they sought to reintroduce the customs of Hounslow Heath at Canal street and the Bowery vaulting ambition o’erleaped itself. The time was not ripe for a renaissance of the Turpin or Jack Sheppard style. So when Thomas or “Kid” Hunt, Dennis or “Butch” Harrington, now in the pen for assisting Dennis Sullivan to avenge a murder, and Michael Gaffney attempted to “stand and deliver” a coach at the corner of those two broad thoroughfares, they were promptly arrested and sentenced to five years in Sing Sing. This was in October, 1880.

Danny Driscol winged his man in two impromptu duels as desperate as ever were fought in Texas or Kentucky. For neither did he so much as pay a fine. One encounter was in Wintermayer’s, a tough New York resort, when he and Pete Flaherty, a burglar, but not a Whyo, quarreled in their cups and drew their pistols. Driscoll “got the drop” as his antagonist fired, broke his pistol arm and fled out of the door with a bullet singing after him.

A second duel grew out of the same incident which probably caused the murder of “Beezie” Garrity. It took place at No. 2 Pell street, a lodging house which was kept by John McCarthy, who moved up into the comparatively pure air of Hester street after that week in which the residents of Pell street, largely his lodgers, received ninety years in sentences for various felonies. Driscoll entered the door of the lodging house and opened a rapid fire on the bookkeeper who had ejected him. The latter promptly responded, but the Whyo’s aim was truer, and the result of the exchange of two shots per duelist was a dangerous wound for the
bookkeeper. Driscoll was arrested but when the time came for a hearing, there was no complainant.

One warm summer night in the golden age the leader strolled up town. He was not on plunder bent. It was not necessary. He had simply left the cares of state behind at the boundary of his kingdom. It was simply a case of Le Roi s’amuse. Passing through a cross street between Second and Third avenues, he saw a stout German citizen asleep in his shirt sleeves on his own door step. A street lamp showed the glitter of a watch chain upon his rotund paunch. The spirit of the pickpocket waked in the leader, and two minutes afterward the driver of a Second avenue car on the down track was astonished by the apparition of a wiry, brown eyed, brown mustached man, who leaped to the platform beside him, seized the whip from his hand and lashed his horse into a gallop. More astonished were the passengers as the car went fairly hounding down the track despite the conductor’s angry bell and the even fainter cry behind of “Stop thief” from a lumbering, breathless German citizen. He was captured hut never punished.

Not less bold a feat than his piracy of a street-car was his rape of a dray. That time he had been prevented from entering a Chrystie street lodging house. He was drunk, and whether his purpose was robbery or wanton mischief does not appear. He shot the man who resisted his ingress. The ball broke his leg. Then he fled to the Bowery, leaped on a passing dray, snatched reins and whip again, and again fled southward. The hue and cry was hard at the wheels, and when a block of vehicles stopped his course, a little boy who had run after him from the lodging house identified him. With a fluent delivery of curses the Whyo leader reached over the side of the dray, and broke the lad’s jaw with his revolver.

But this was before his palmy days. When at his prime he never was pushed to such extremes of daring. He and his gang were a recognized political factor in the ward. It was not that they had so many votes of their own, for the highest census shows twenty five in Mulberry street, twenty in Leonard, ten in Hark and one hundred for all the rest of the Sixth ward. Many of these were not true Whyos, though they sounded the cry and blackmailed the wayfarer for “’ite cents to rush de growler.” Many were not of age. Whyo age ran from fifteen to thirty years. Many more were disfranchised by conviction for felony. But when the Whyo king went or sent a retainer along a block asking respectfully for votes for a certain candidate they were generally given. It was a cheap tribute of blackmail–much cheaper for a small shopkeeper than to have his windows smashed or his stock robbed, or himself “done up” after hours. In fact, the Whyos were a sort of Janissary or Praetorian Guard to certain politicians of the Sixth ward.

Such was the golden age of the Whyos. Into their lives some rain had to fall, like the conviction of Hunt, Harrington, and Gaffney for murder. But they waxed fat and happy as a rule, and the sight of their leader, the great Danny, setting out for the races with his russet grip in his hand and a linen duster over his arm was a thing to charm. And there was an awful halo of successful criminality around his head which made the vicious of both sexes fall down and worship. Among them was “Beezie” Garrity, an ex-shop girl.

A rosy cheeked young man, with a pleasant smile, showing a white, regular set of teeth under a brown mustache and possessing a heavy but rather soft voice, quite unlike the regulation growl of the typical old-fashioned metropolitan police officer, succeeded “Old Jerry” Petty, the martinet police Captain of the Sixth, in 1884. This was “young” Captain McCullagh, so called to distinguish him from his father, also a police Captain, and he seemed not such a very terrible new broom to sweep such a precinct clean.

The social propensities of Whyodom enabled the police to securely set the net. It was learned that there was to be a Whyo ball on the night of Thursday, Oct. 9, 1884. The ball-room was in the very elbow of “the Bend,” on Mulberry street, the heart of the worst block in New York. All went merry as the night before Waterloo that evening.

There was no guard outside to sound the call, and toward midnight “Red” Riley was sitting out a quadrille to talk to a woman, who had just sunk to the Bend. There came a sudden rush of feet through the saloon outside. “Red” Riley stopped in the midst of his story and leaped to the back window, raised it, put one foot over the sill and fell back on the floor. A night stick had struck him square between the eyes. The swarm of uniformed policemen pouring in through the front door, it seemed, was supplemented by an equal number in the yard behind the ball-room in “the Bend.” “Bridgeport Lou’s” ladylike scream at the discomfiture of her cavalier was drowned in the vigorous viragoish yells and oaths of the Molls and Beezies and Brockey Lizzies to the Bend manner born. The lights went out, and in the darksome tumult was heard distinct from other sounds the clatter of stolen watches thrown hastily to the floor. Six of these metal evidences of guilt were found there next morning.

Twelve Whyos, none of them big ones, were the net proceeds of the new captain’s first venture. A day was taken to look over their records and find the prosecutable charges against them. Red Riley had one of robbing Henry Stanley, of No. 9 Pell street, who related the other half of the interrupted story in the Tombs’ police court. “Tim” Sheehan was credited with assisting in the rescue of a prisoner. Similar charges were found against others, sufficing to give six of them six months and the others from ten to sixty days apiece.

Then began the war, which only ended five years after, when Owney Bruen, the last of their leaders, gave vent to the miserable, despairing cry “The police are hounding me!” Driscoll might have made the same complaint with feeling if not justice, for the next two years or less he was locked up twenty-seven times. In the year 1888, the last one of his civil life, Policeman Early impaired his prestige and made himself a terror to the gang by administering a good, sound, all round clubbing, which laid him up for days.

But the war was a war and not a mere “pacification.” Patrolman Cottrell’s leg was broken in one skirmish. Patrolman Adams was ignominlously imprisoned in the doorway of No. 33 Park street while burglar McCormic escaped. Patrolman Lyons had worse luck and was thrown down a flight of stairs when he chased a gang into a hallway. A brick thrown from a roof at Pearl and Park streets broke Patrolman Drafton’s jaw. Patrolman Rankin got a bullet through his helmet as he paced his beat one night at Duane and Center streets. Danny Lyons, who out-whyoed even Driscoll and Lavelle, by a strange savagery, which found expression in the gentle pastime of biting off the tails of barroom cats, looked higher than a mere patrolman, and assaulted Roundsman Shields with a loaded cane.

Night stick and nippers were getting the upper hand all the time, but the Whyo at bay developed constantly in savagery. This was shown on the occasion in 1885 when “Beezie” Garrity first made manifest to the police the same quality of devotion to the gang which shows a kind of burlesque, distorted pathos about her taking off.

There had been some kind of Whyo larks on the roof of No. 9 Mulberry street. In the course of them one of them the belles of “the Bend” was pitched off the roof and picked up a writhing, gasping of broken bones, which soon became a mangled corpse. It was intentional. It was a Whyo joke–much such an example of facetiousness as in circles which the world would hardly call polite would the the pulling of a chair from the place where some one had intended to sit down. “Beezie” had been the girl’s only feminine companion on the roof. Capt. McCullagh thought to terrify her into “squealing” by locking her up with the men of the gang for three days.

But the bold, dark faced girl remained as dumb as an oyster, and when he let her out and sought to coax her into admission her refusal to criminate might have been the result of the schooling of a Tombs lawyer, so perfectly evasive was it.

To the end she went, having successfully protected the gang from the consequences of one murder, trying vainly almost with her dying breath to protect its leader from the consequences of another–her own–to the end that was coming quicker than the prophet dreamed; to the end that was to be the beginning of the end of the wild dance of death in which the Whyos pirouetted in the flame and smoke of their own pistol muzzles in a wild murder craze to their separate dooms; to the end of the night of terror in Whyoland.

Again and again has been told the story of the murder of the hot morning of June 20, 1860, when the king and queen of the Whyos came up Hester street, rolling in their chariot of state, a “night-hawk’s” crazy hack, to execute royal, if drunken, justice upon the rebellious lord of Castle McCarthy. “Beezie” Garrity was shot dead in the melee. What was characteristic of the Whyo leader was the adroitness of his flight–his last desperate effort to double on the police, on whom he had so often doubled before.

Leaving the bleeding body of the queen lying in the lodging house hallway, where he had meant to leave the body of his old Pell street enemy, the Whyo king ran through the steaming streets, just growing gray with the early dawn of the summer solstice. It was a short sprint to his home at No. 128 Baxter street, and every step of the way was quickened by the echo of the foot of some new pursuer. Into the house he plunged and up the stairs. On came police and ward detectives after him. No sign of the murderer in No. 128. Then to the roof the chase mounted, through the scuttle and down through the scuttle of the roof of No. 126. There lay “Apple Meg,” Driscoll’s mother, in bed. She sleepily denied any knowledge of her son’s whereabouts.

Out on the fire escape and thence through the window back into No. 128 the chase by some happy inspiration followed. There in his room lolled the Whyo leader in his shirt sleeves, surprised at the officers’ intrusion, denying all knowledge of the cause of his arrest. It was the last but one of his quickwitted strokes for safety–that clever double-back into the house which the police had searched and, as he thought, would not search again.

Doggedly he stuck to his line of defense that McCarthy had slain the girl in shooting at him instead of his having killed her in shooting at McCarthy. Prop after prop was knocked from under the flimsy structure. McCarthy’s revolver was given up immediately after the shooting, with every chamber loaded and no evidence of discharge and reloading. Then the girl herself, persuaded by relatives–for “Beezie” was the black sheep of an honest Sixth ward family–or by the priest to tell the truth, even at “Danny’s” expense, withdrew before she died her antemortem statement against McCarthy.

Still, with a wondrous sense of dramatic consistency, he took his part of a persecuted Robin Hood of the slums–an impulsive, misguided, merry lad, whom the injustice of the rulers of the land had driven under the east side greenwood. Owney Bruen was his faithful Friar Tuck, cheerfully acting out his part in the labored lie and perjuring himself picturesquely in his fatuous belief in his leader’s lucky star.

That was in the autumn of 1886. Death was not staring him in the face as yet. Death had to do with others of his hand ere it should have time to call for him in the jail yard on a winter morning fifteen months afterward. Death, violent death, had made a tryst with the inmates of the house where he lived, where he sought to hide, whence he was led to prison, and, strange to say, it left him till the last.

Love, Whyo love, was behind “Kid” Hunt’s hatred of “Poll” Sullivan, though “Kid” said that the kicking of his shins by the burly “Poll” and an unpleasant allusion to a recent incarceration on Blackwell’s Island were the causes of his deed. “Kid” thought best to conceal his motive, because he had a wife and two children living at No. 11 Pell street and the wife was not the woman who had told “Kid” of Sullivan’s attention to her during his stay on the island! No, it was Lizzie Gallagher, another black sheep of a Sixth ward fold. She it is who, as his widow–for he married her on coming out of prison–now mourns with a fierce, revengeful grief the final sequel of the tale she told “Kid” of “Poll’s” false friendship.

It was a commonplace murder enough externally, this which hid so strong a touch of nature in its hidden recesses. A pistol shot at Leonard and Centre streets, at half-past seven o’clock on the night of Nov. 29, 1886, a little more than two months after Driscoll’s conviction. No one knows who did it at first, though there is a crowd around the bleeding, big body, and chilling, hook nose of Poll as he lies on the pavement. Then an officer snatches “Con” Rice, finds a pistol on him, extorts the reluctant confession that “Kid” Hunt, who was with Owney Bruen, shot “Poll” and ran away, intrusting the pistol to “Con.” Then all the echoes of the night about the Points are loud with the confident assertion that “Owney gave him de gun,” but no evidence, not a shred, beyond “Con” Rice’s extorted admission, that anybody had given him the gun. Then the police drag net is set and “Poll’s” body made ready for burial.

Then was there seen in Whyoland a bit of warm, pure, human feeling. “Poll” had been a practical joker. A “dead all around kidder,” the neighborhood called him, and he had “kidded” the button works girls so long that when he was gone they missed him. He used to stand on Centre street as they flocked up to their work at Canal and Elm every morning with anxious glances at the “Clipper” clock . Then “Poll” would snatch their dinner baskets to delay them and dodge the sound cuffs which they aimed at his ears, while a shower of Sixth ward badinage filled the air. Sometimes he would vary this formula by uncaging the morning occupant of a neighboring cigar store’s rat trap amid their hurrying ranks and thus hasten their screaming flight up Centre street as much as he had delayed it the day before.

Thus “Poll” Sullivan’s “kidding” and the exchange of chaff which followed it grew to be quite the event of the day with the button works girls. On the morning of Nov. 30 their shrill chatter was hushed as they hurried up Centre street, particularly as they passed the corner of Leonard. Then it broke out approvingly as someone said, “Girls, let’s get him some flowers.” So on the big, good-natured rough’s coffin, as he lay in his namesake Sullivan’s undertaking rooms, there was laid that night a wreath, the tribute of the button works girl’s, who mourned that they should be “kidded” no more.

Five years for manslaughter was “Kid’s” sentence. He would have gone scott free had it not been for his own admissions.

Then another inmate of the royal household of No. 128 Baxter street stepped into the mazes of the Whyo dance of death. The wildest Whyo figure of them all was this–that of “Danny” Lyons, not “Stable Gang Danny,” then lying with Driscoll in the Tombs for the murder of Quinn, the athlete, but “Whyo Danny,” the biter, stabber, gouger, amputator of the tails of Five Points bar-room cats. “Danny” trod a drunken, carmagnolish measure down Worth street one summer morning in 1887–trod it to No. 199, between the Points and Chatham street, Dan Murphy’s saloon. The pavement in front of it was consecrated by the blood of one Whyo, “Sass” Suggero, dead from the blow of a “bung-starter” administered by a mutinous subject in Whyoland. But “Danny,” full of Five Points whisky, danced over the ill-omened pavement; danced after the new cat, which fled with a yowl, as if mindful of the fate of her predecessor; danced the bartender into the back room; danced the bottles off the shelves; danced howling for the blood of Dan Murphy.

“Why-oh, why-oh,” shrilling no longer in the darkness of Five Points’ hallways. Shrilling rather in the darkness of the night’s Plutonian shore. Oh. They were making rare preparations in the shades for the coming of the prisoned chieftan in the Tombs. “Poll,” the court jester, and Danny, the boldest knight of the Whyo round table of Chatham street, were there, ready to greet his ears with the familiar cry when he came.

He was coming fast. Aug. 16, 1887, Daniel Lyons was buried. Dec. 2 Daniel Driscoll was led forth to receive his death sentence after an appellate court had affirmed the verdict of the previous year.

The window of the cell had by loosening the stone been enlarged almost enough to allow the passage of a man’s body. In another day the Whyo chief would have been free to grasp the rope which the band were ready to throw eras the Elm street wall, and he and “Stable Gang Danny” Lyons who was in the plot with him, would have made one last dash for liberty. It was undoubtedly his wife whose place “Beezie” had taken when be was the king, who had taken Beezie’s place when he was the captive, who brought him the disguise and the saw.

He rewarded her for her devotion. Rewarded her and her mother, too, “Apple Mag,” with whom he hidden after so many of his escapes. The day after he took McCarthy’s medicine they fell a quarreling in his presence—the wives and mothers of Whyoland are more remarkable for warmth than refined of feeling—over the disposition of his body. Tired of their squabbling at last he turned and said:—

“You _ _ _ , neither of you’ll git it. See?”

Such were the last words of the Whyo king, or rather the last veritable expression of his character. What he said afterward was mere gallows yard formulae.

McCarthy’s medicine was taken on January 23, 1888. If it had been taken on January 24 its recipient would have had to be carried to it. The grip of the law broke his moral vertebra before the hemp broke his neck.

A shattered and disorganized band of bandits was Owney Bruen left in charge of, whom neither the fiercest of “hummers” nor the sight of his late majesty’s brown derby hat, which he had willed to his successor, could cheer. Nor could his high example of cajoling into self-sacrificing perjury a luckless lad who had given bim a stolen watch to dispose of
raise their spirits.

A few months after Driscoll’s end he was sentenced to nine years and five for assaulting a German grocer in City Hall place who had refused to “lend” him money.

This was the last sentence on a Whyo for a crime committed under the organization. The Hallissy brothers, William and Thomas, when they were arrested for killing their brother-in-law, Thomas McLaughlin, in East Eighty-sixth street last summer, were simply recognized by the police as members of the old gang who had, like “Kid” Hunt, strayed far uptown. When Captain Brooks, Captain McCullogh’s successor, made the arrest of the Harringtons and Dennis Sullivan for “Kid’s” murder three weeks ago his clue was on the recollection of “Poll” Sullivan’s taking off and the fact that Dennis had been known to blame the death from grief of his father and sister on “Poll’s” slayer.

So the cry of the children of the Points, children of the Tombs, is stilled! Only from the throat of their Minotaur–the grim gray monster crouching there in the flare of the gusty Centre street lamps–can it come.

Cry of the night birds of the slums! Boot and saddle and to the standard call of crime! Silent in death! Silent in shame!

“Why-oh! Why-oh!”