Ludwig, the Bloodsucker

Herbert Asbury, in Chapter IX, Section 2 of The Gangs of New York, mentions that Lower Manhattan had its own vampire, an old German called Ludwig the Bloodsucker, who frequented two Bowery dives, Bismarck Hall and the House of Commons. Asbury remarked on Ludwig’s copious terminal hair coming out of his ears and nostrils, and that he drank blood like wine. Other writers after Asbury added that Ludwig preyed on the drunken customers that stumbled out of saloons.

Ludwig wasn’t mentioned in any of Asbury’s listed sources, and in fact can’t be found in any 19th century books. Many people, such as the article contributors of Wikipedia, have concluded that Ludwig was a myth, an urban legend. It’s a good premise, to imagine that the Bowery area had its own monster to rival Whitechapel’s Jack the Ripper, preying on the lost souls of impoverishment.

Happily, after 140 years, I can announce to the world that Ludwig the Bloodsucker was not a myth. His name was Franz Ludwig (sometimes Americanized as Francis Louis) Hellreigel, born in Germany in 1824. Hellreigel and his wife, Margaretha, raised a large family and resided at times on the Lower East Side and across the river in Brooklyn. They were not poor, and owned their own property. He was a tailor by profession.

Hellreigel’s peculiar taste in liquids was publicized in the New York Mercury, and later reprinted in the National Police Gazette:

Hellreigel, alas, was not quite alone. There are contemporary newspaper accounts that relate that some doctors, following quack theories, prescribed the ingesting of blood to alleviate certain medical complaints, especially consumption (usually tuberculosis). Though Hellreigel started his practice as a child for similar reason, he stands apart in his adult preference for blood as refreshment.

That’s odd–I can’t find Hellreigel’s death record.

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.


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


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.


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.


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.