The Tragic Diamond Candy Company Fire of 1915

Screen shot 2015-03-30 at 6.43.06 PMScreen shot 2015-03-30 at 6.42.54 PMScreen shot 2015-03-30 at 6.40.36 PM

In Researching the history of North Brooklyn it is staggering how often the area suffered fires and how large and deadly they were. We are all aware of the tragic explosion in the East Village last week and the Diamond Fire was even more tragic. On November 6, 1915 twelve people, mostly women, lost their lives because a fire broke out and  the factory owners were in violation of the fire code and there were not enough exits for people to escape.  The fire took place at 285-287 North Sixth Street. The building was gutted, but it was the awful human toll that was worst.

Edward Diamond and his wife Celia were charged with criminal negligence and homicide as a result of their failure to follow the fire code. They had been ordered to fire-proof the halls of their factory months earlier, but they had not complied. Four years earlier New York had experienced the horror of the Triangle Shirt factory fire in which one hundred and forty-six people died. New York responded by supposedly becoming very strict with fire code, but apparently the Diamonds learned nothing from the Triangle fire.

There were many explanations as to how and where the fire started, but the one grim fact was that the fire spread with lightning speed. There were two hundred people employed in the building and when the flames spread with such rapidity it created a general panic. The Daily Eagle reported that the stairs and fire escapes ” A straggling mass of humanity clogged the stairs and fire escapes.” Although they had done fire drills people lost all sense of order and they pressed ahead jamming the exits. The fire was reported at one forty and quickly there were twelve streams of water, but it was already too late for the doomed building as the roof collapsed and the other floors quickly followed.

One of the workers in the candy factory explained that he and others made it to the roof, but the roof door was locked. Workers ran to the windows and saw a sheet of flame rising towards their floor that terrified them.

There was a hero at the fire though. The night watchman, Thomas Savino,  had come to the factory to collect his check. When he saw the flames he entered the burning building and despite being seared by the flames he  managed to lead at least seventy-five frightened women out of the factory and the fire Marshall said that these women owed the watchmen their lives.


180-year-old locomotive could be buried under Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn

WPIX 11 New York

[ooyala code=”F3cTY2dDqIspxV9v2JJT_6Azz9EciZuY” player_id=”9ae34776f76145da969becdeb205e6a5″]

Is a locomotive that’s more than 180 years old buried under Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn?

It’s a stretch of line known as possibly the oldest subway in the world.

Some people are calling for it to be rediscovered and they’re inviting the city of New York to join them.

Bob Diamond, with the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association, is known for the tours he conducted along and beneath Atlantic Avenue from the 1980s until 2010 (when the city said safety concerns meant the tours could not continue). In an interview with PIX11’s Greg Mocker, Diamond explained how an interest in railways and engineering led to the discovery.

He says he has worked with engineers and contractors to map the area, including a measurement below Atlantic Avenue at Hicks Street that appears to show a large mass that could be made of metal.  Some images are available in…

View original post 12 more words

Origins of Williamsburg Street Names

This excellent list of the origins of Williamsburg street names comes from  the Roman Catholic Community of
Most Holy Trinity – St. Mary’s website.  Enjoy!
1) Maujer Street was originally called Remsen Street, after Abraham Remsen, a farmer whose property began at what is now the junction of Maujer and Union Avenue. The lower portion was once also called Manhattan Street. On 1835 maps, it went from South 1st Street to Bushwick Avenue. In 1869 it was extended to Morgan Avenue. On April 30, 1937 the name was changed to Maujer Street for Daniel Maujer, Esq., and alderman in the old 15th Ward. He owned land at the junction of Remsen and Union. The change was made to avoid confusion with the downtown Brooklyn’s Remsen Street. The old Union Cemetery once occupied the area bounded by Maujer, Stagg, Leonard and Lorimer Streets.

2) Bushwick Avenue (Eastern Parish Boundary) in the oldest street in all of Bushwick, dating back to the earliest Dutch occupation. Peter Stuyvesant named it on March 14, 1661. The name is generally said to mean “Place Of the Woods”. The area was dense with forests, thickets, scrub oaks, logs and low land. British soldiers used a great deal of the wood for fuel.

3) Rodney Street dates from 1835 and honors Cesar Rodney, a general in the Revolutionary War and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

4) Keap Street, like Rodney, is on 1835 maps. The land for both streets was formally deeded to the city in 1858. It was actually named for another signer of the Declaration, Thomas McKean; the name was erroneously transcribed as “Keap” and never corrected. Go back to the top

5) Hooper Street (maps 1835, land deeded 1852) is named for William Hooper, signer of the Declaration of Independence.

6) Hewes Street, originally a farm lane (1810) on General Jeremiah Johnson’s farm, was named in 1835 for Joseph Hewes, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He also headed the naval committee for the 13 colonies.

7) Union Avenue in 1835 went from Withers Street to South 6th Street. The first sections were opened on September 8, 1861. It was so named because in 1835 it “united” Williamsburgh and Bushwick, which until then had been separate villages.

8) Lorimer Street recalls the middle name of John and James Graham (after whom Graham Avenue is named), two famous land-jobbers, active in 1836 selling building lots in the area. The street was originally called Gwinette Street, after Button Gwinett, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. In 1835 it extended from South 6th Street to Greenpoint and was extended north to Noble Street in 1868. The name was changed on April 23, 1901.

9) Leonard Street (formerly the name in 1835 of present-day Lorraine Street in Red Hook) is one of the more recent streets in the area. It was opened from Broadway to Greenpoint Avenue on October 4, 1852.

10) Manhattan Avenue (“manah”, island and “atin”, hill) has, since May 24, 1897 been the name of the street originally called Ewen Street (1835). Daniel Ewen was a surveyor of the old and new village of Williamsburg. Ewen Street stretched from North 6th Street to Greenpoint line. The section from Greenpoint Avenue to Newtown Creek was formerly Union Avenue, and a section between South 5th Street and Java Street was once called Hill Road, and another; piece “Union Place” and in 1867 another stretch was called Orchard Street: It was called Manhattan after the borough across the river.

11) Graham Avenue was named in 1835 for John and James Lorimer Graham, very successful agents for local realtors selling building lots. In those days such agents were called “land-jobbers.” Go back to the top

12) Humboldt Street (originally 1835 Wyckoff Avenue and later, Smith Street and Smith Avenue) was paved and opened in 1851 from Flushing Avenue to Greenpoint Line. It was renamed somewhere between 1869-1890 to honor Alexander Humboldt (1769-1859), the German explorer of the Orinoco and Amazon rivers (in 1799-1804) and the founder of geophysics.

13) Debovoise Street commemorated Charles Debevoise, a villager who lived on Flushing Avenue. Opened in 1852, it was earlier known as Banzett Street. Debevoise was a descendant of Carl De Devoise (the name means “Beautiful Road”), the first schoolmaster in the area.

14) Cook Street recalls an old resident family whose farm home was located at the “crossroads” of Flushing and Bushwick Avenue”

15) Varet Street opened in 1883, is named for Lewis I. Varette, a land speculator in the area.

16) Moore Street recalls Thomas C. Moore, who owned land in the area, a manufacturer of wire sieves and netting was opened in 1852.

17) Siegel Street (once called Marshall Street) in named for Major General Franz Siegel (1824-1902) of the Civil War Union Army. The street was opened in 1852 from Broadway to Bushwick. Siegel had been born in Germany, came to this country and played an important role in engaging the sympathies of German immigrants to the Union cause. His military skill helped save St. Louis from the Confederates. He was later a customs agent and an editor of the “New York Monthly”. A commemorative statue was erected in 1901 on Riverside Drive in New York City. Go back to the top

18) McKibbin Street was opened in 1853 from Broadway to Bushwick. Part of the Jacob Boerum farm, it was purchased by John McKibbin and a certain Nichols (his partner). They built homes for German settlers. The area was therefore called “Dutchtown.”

19) Montrose Avenue was opened in 1850 in what was by then already known as the “German Quarter” (as the section bounded by Bushwick, Metropolitan, Meeker and Union Avenues was called “Irish Town”) Originally opened from Union to Bushwick Avenue, Montrose was extended in 1906. The origin of the name is not known.

20) Meserole Street (spelled originally Messerole) was laid out in 1835 through Abraham Messerole’s farm, from Union Avenue to Bushwick Avenue. In 1948 it was extended to Seneca Avenue.

21) Scholes Street (1835) recalls the family of James Scholes, land owners in the area. He purchased the Jeremiah Remson farm in 1831. Paved in 1850, it was extended from Bushwick Avenue to the county line in 1904.

22) Stagg Street: The origin of the name is not clear. Possibly it honors Peter Stagg, one of the commissioners who laid out the streets in 1835. Opened in 1853, it extended from Union Avenue to Bushwick Avenue and was extended, along with Scholes, in 1904 to the borough line.

23) Ten Eyck Street, formerly Wyckoff Street, was opened in 1852. In 1904 it stretched from Union Avenue to Newtown Creek. It recalls Richard Ten Eyck, one of the 44 men whose wealth in 1847 was estimated to exceed $10,000, a very large sum in those days.

24) Maujer Street (formerly Remsen) has already been described. When the name was changed, Daniel Maujer represented the area’s 15th Ward as Alderman.

25) Grand Street dates from 1835, and like its Manhattan counterpart, suggests the “grandeur” of the many shops lining either side of the street. The Lower section had been called Washington and then Dunham street. As early as 1812 a section ran thru the Morreil farm. In 1836 it was extended thru the Conselyea farm and in 1855 from Bushwick Avenue to Metropolitan.

26) Powers Street (1835) is named after William E. Powers, a zealous clerk in the realty office of the Graham Brothers (after whom Graham avenue was named). Powers was designated the nominal proprietor of vast acres for convenience in arranging sales; the profits went to others, but work detail was his responsibility.

27) Ainslie Street (1835) honors Justice James Ainslie, a member of the Board of Trustees (1828-36) of Williamsburg. It was officially opened and paved in 1850 along with Devoe.

28) Devoe Street (1835) recalls the Devoe family of old Bushwick Village. It was formerly opened in 1850. The Devoe family owned the land near south side of North 2nd, but lived in Bushwick. (The street if not named after the Frederick Devoe family, which did have a farm along the East River shore).

29) The Number Streets (South 5th to North 3rd). When Richard Woodhull had the area surveyed in 1792 (he had purchased 12 acres), he simply gave the streets numbers, except for Grand Street and a lane along the waterfront which he called “Water Street” and another East River street called “River Street” (now under water). Grand Street divided the north and south numbered streets (1828). North 2nd Street was once part of the old Jamaica Turnpike. In Woodhull’s time the north-numbered streets stopped on North 12th. The south streets (from 1836) extended to South 11th Street, just at the line dividing Brooklyn from Williamsburg. These numbered streets therefore count as among the very oldest in the parish [of St. Mary’s]. The north-south named streets were similarly originally designated with numbers 1st, 2nd. etc. In 1885 the north-south numbered streets were given names. (First Street is now Kent, Second Street is now Wythe, and so on).

30) Metropolitan Avenue was originally called Bushwick Street, Later Woodhull Street and then North 2nd. Eventually combined with the Jamaica Turnpike and Williamsburg Turnpike it became Metropolitan Avenue.

Williamsburg’s Forgotten Hall of Fame Pitcher Mickey Welch

Screen shot 2015-03-29 at 8.16.19 AM

Few people in Williamsburg remember “Smiling Mickey” Welch, but he was one of the greatest pitchers ever to play professional baseball. Michael Francis Welch (July 4, 1859 – July 30, 1941) was the third pitcher to accumulate 300 career victories. Welch was born and raised in WIlliamsburg  and played 13 seasons in the major leagues, three with the Troy Trojans, and 10 with the New York Gothams/Giants. He was very successful with an effective curveball, a change of pace, and a version of the screwball. During his 13 major league seasons, he posted 20 or more wins nine times, seven in succession.

“Smiling Mickey” Welch earned his name  because of his nonchalant smile that never dimmed no matter how many errors his teammates made behind him. He attributed his remarkable pitching success to drinking beer. He even coined a short ditty that embodied his philosophy: “Pure elixir of malt and hops/Beats all the drugs and all the drops.” Welch was born Michael Francis Walsh. He later adopted the last name Welch. The name change may have been spurred by a sportswriter’s mistaken recording of the name in a box score. The new last name may have distinguished him from the high number of men in Brooklyn at the time named Michael Walsh. Off the baseball field, Welch used his birth name throughout his life

His real name was actually Michael Walsh and he was born of Irish parents on the fourth of July 1859. At the time of his birth there was no place in America that was more fanatical about the new sport than Brooklyn. A Greenpoint team, The Eckford Club, would win two national championships in the Civil War years and the first fully enclosed baseball ground, The Union Grounds. Kids all over Brooklyn were playing the game in sandlots and Welch became a students of the game at an early age.

Welch stood only five eight and was no power pitcher. He threw underhand and had his success because he was a student of the game who mastered batters strengths and weaknesses and pitched smartly. Welch said, “I was a little fellow and I had to learn to use my head. I studied the hitters and knew how to pitch to all of them and I worked hard to perfect my control. I had a pretty good fastball, but I depended on my change of pace and an assortment of curveballs.”

Some claim that the curveball was invented in Wiliamsburg in 1867 by local pitcher Candy Cummings who is also enshrined in the Hall of Fame for his invention of the curve ball. Others claim that they invented the pitch, though. Controversy aside, Welch became a master of the curve and it propelled him into the majors.

Welch made his professional debut in 1878 with Auburn in the minor-league National Association. The following year, he was with Holyoke in the same circuit. Hired by the Troy Trojans of the National League for the 1880 season, Mickey was installed as the team’s ace pitcher.

Welch came through with 34 wins in 64 starts and 574 innings as a rookie. Despite his extraordinary yearling season, Mickey was replaced as Troy’s ace the following year by Tim Keefe.

After again playing second fiddle to Keefe in 1882, Welch regained his status as the club’s No. 1 pitcher when Troy moved to New York for the 1883 season and Keefe was shifted from Gotham’s National League franchise to the New York Metropolitans of the American Association.

To Welch fell the honor of pitching the first game for the home team in the original Polo Grounds. The forerunner of the New York Giants got full value from Mickey, a 25-game winner in 1883 and a 39-game winner the next season.

In 1885, when Keefe returned to the club from the Metropolitans, the pair won 76 games between them, with Welch contributing 44 victories. The New Yorkers were unable to garner a flag until 1888. Welch netted 26 wins for the pennant winners, then another 27 victories a year later, when the Giants repeated as champions by capturing the title on the last day of the season in the closest pennant race in history to that point.

With most of the leading stars gone to the Players League in 1890, Welch toppled to just 17 wins. Used sparingly the following season, he started only 15 games, winning six and losing nine. After being knocked out of the box in an early-season start in 1892, Mickey was shipped to Troy in the Eastern League. Despite his 308 career wins, he was neglected by Hall of Fame voters until the Veterans Committee named him for enshrinement in 1973.

The Norwegian Roots of North Brooklyn

It is an irony of history that the first European settler in Greenpoint, Dirck The Norseman, and the first European settler of Williamsburg, Hans Hansen Bergen, were not only both Norwegians, but were also from the same town Bergen.  They were contemporaries who must have known one another, but they had dramatically different characters and divergent attitudes towards violence against the Native Americans.

Dirck  Volckertszen was born sometime around the start of the seventeenth century in Bergen. At the time there were few economic opportunities for the native-born Norwegians because the country was controlled by a German trading monopoly called the Hansa, which excluded the native Norwegians from many economic opportunities. Still, only a teenager, Dirck headed south to Holland, which in the seventeenth century was a booming trading Empire. Dirck probably heard there about the new colony they were setting up across the Atlantic  called new Amsterdam and the colony needed carpenters like Dirck.

Our first documentary evidence of Dirck’s existence comes from legal records in the Netherlands in which Dirck Volckert and Cornelius Volckertsen, in all probability Dirck’s brother, presented a petition to the States General of the Netherlands seeking permission to send a ship to New Netherlands with all sorts of merchandise to sell. The brothers probably arrived in 1625, the same year Manhattan Island was sold to the Dutch. We have no images of Dirck, but it is probable that he looked like other Scandinavians, tall fair and blond like his Viking forefathers. He was still only a foreign teenager without parents when he reached the new world, but he was a young man of great strength and determination.

Norwegian birth was not extraordinary in Dutch New Amsterdam. Norwegians, were already a presence in the new colony and there were many other Scandinavians in New Amsterdam, even one from his hometown who would settle next to him in Manhattan on Pearl Street. One of those Norsemen was Hans Hansen Bergen, or as he was sometimes called Hans the Norman or Norseman.   Hansen Bergen also arrived early  in New Amsterdam, settling in the colony in 1633 a few years after Dirck. We do not know when Hansen Bergen was born but guesses put it circa 1810-1815. Like Dirck, Hansen Bergen was also a carpenter.

Norwegian was just one of many languages spoken on its streets from the founding of the colony. When Peter Minuet bought Manhattan Island from the indigenous Lenape people of New York, a Norwegian sailor actually acted as Minuet’s translator.. The colony from its start was multi-lingual and multi-ethnic, so Dirck was able to an amazing degree to do business with fellow Scandinavians. Hans owned a tavern for a time, so it is a good bet that the two Norwegian settlers not only knew each other, but were also drinking buddies.

Dirck arrived in the Dutch colony when Manhattan was still a sparsely populated, struggling trading settlement at the very southern tip of the island. It is hard to imagine today, but there was still open land in Southern Manhattan waiting for farmers like Dirck, who farmed the land there for a time. Dirck,like Hans, however, was destined to move to the wild land further to the East. It was in Manhattan, however, where he met his future wife, thirteen-year-old Christine Vigne who would bear him eight children. The Vignes were among the first thirty French Walloon families the Dutch West India Company, imported to establish the New Netherlands colony in 1624. The couple married in 1630, settling with her family on a farm in lower Manhattan. Hans, ironically enough,  would also marry a Waloon girl, Sarah Rapelje, the first female child of European parentage born in the colony of New Netherland. Hans would have eight children with Sarah before his death in 1653. She would remarry a Dutchman named Bogart and would have seven more. Today more than a million people can claim to be a direct descendent of Rapelje and the famous actor Humphrey Bogart is one of her many  descendants.

Both men became interested in the possibilities of cutting lumber  on Long Island that today is Brooklyn. Both were probably there in the eighteen-thirties, illegally cutting wood there for houses that were desperately needed in Manhattan. In 1645 Dirck built the first stone structure in Greenpoint and two years later in 1647, Bergen received a patent for 400 acres  in the Wallabout Bay area of present-day Brooklyn and part of that patent extended into what today is Williamsburg. Did Dirck’s presence in Greenpoint help lure Hansen Bergen across the East River? It is entirely likely.

Despite their many similarities, it seems the two Norwegians had very different attitudes towards violence against the Native Americans. Dirck fought against the Native Americans and in 1655 in all probability was part of the Underhill force that massacred  the Mespeatches Native American village in Maspeth, Queens. Hansen Bergen was famed for his sprinter’s speed and his ability to climb trees. It seems that when the Native Americans attacked rather than shooting, Hansen Bergen sprinted away from the Natives and climbed a tree. The Native Americans circled the tree and Hans’ fate seemed grim.  However, just  when the Norwegian was certain that the natives would chop the tree down and end his life,  Hans began to sing the psalms. He must have had a beautiful voice for the Native Americans were so struck by the beauty of his voice that they allowed him to live.

Dutch record show Dirck the Norseman as a violent man who was often involved in conflict, but Hansen Bergen, on the contrary,  comes down to us as a large jovial man who was often involved in settling conflicts between people. It is ironic that two men with so many similarities should also be so different in their attitudes towards violence.

Monk Eastman Psychopathic New York Gangster and War Hero

Screen shot 2015-03-21 at 7.29.22 PM

Monk Eastman was a legendary New York gangster who grew up in Williamsburg. he has been called ” The  First real New York gangster.” He is also considered to be one of the last real 19th-century New York street gangsters who preceded the rise of Arnold Rothstein and more sophisticated organized criminal enterprises.

Eastman  was born  in 1875 in the tough Corlear’s Hook section of lower Manhattan to Samuel Eastman, a Civil War veteran and wallpaper-hanger, and his wife Mary Parks. His father left the family when Eastman was only five and the family had to move in with relatives.  Although he was born in Manhattan, he grew up in Williamsburg.  in 1887  his mother moved the family to 93 South Third Street. His background remains something of a mystery. Although he associated with many Jewish gangsters, there is no proof that he was Jewish.  He used a number of irish aliases, but there is no proof either that he was Irish.

Eastman’s uncle was a wealthy man and Monk could have had his  education paid for, but Monk  loved the gang life of New York and some have called him the ” By the time he was a teenager he had exasperated his god-fearing mother with his brawling, robberies and other anti-social acts. Although he stood only five feet six inches tall, he was a fearsome force. He had an instinctive aptitude for street fighting. Monk was a hard punching, club swinging, ear biting eye gouging lunatic who could pummel anyone mad enough to fight him.

When Monk was seventeen his wealthy  set the young Eastman up in a pet shop on Penn Street, which  was a useful front for Eastman’s life passion: crime.  Young Eastman first  made money from stealing pigeons and then selling them in his store.  Eastman could be ruthless and cruel to humans, but he loved animals.  He was usually seen strolling about with a huge blue pigeon on his shoulder and a couple of cats tucked under his massive arms. Anyone he found being cruel to animals got a severe drubbing. “I like de kits and boids,” Monk said. He would then proceed to beat the animal abuser to a pulp.

The moniker of “Monk,” short for monkey, was given to him by enemies who claimed (accurately) that he looked like an ape. Luc Sante describes Eastman’s looks  in his amazing book “Low Life.”  Sante writes,” Unlike his fellow gangsters of the time, Eastman was so crude in appearance that he could model for the stereotypical crook who has continued to show up in cartoons down to the present day (he had a bullet-shaped head, a broken nose, cauliflower ears, prominently throbbing veins, numerous knife scars, pendulous jowls, and a bull neck and  was usually seen wearing an undershirt, with a small derby perched on the back of his head of longish, unkempt hair.” In his book ” The Gangs of New York” Herbert Asbury writes,” Eastman distinguished himself as a colorful character in those early days by  wearing a derby two sizes two small, sporting numerous gold-capped teeth and often parading around shirtless or in torn clothing, but always accompanied by his pigeons.”

By 1892 he left Williamsburg for good and settled in the Lower East Side. He would become the terror of the area.  In the 1890′s, the Lower East Side was a warren of disease-ridden  tenements for the immigrated poor and, by all accounts, its streets were a breeding ground for pickpockets, thugs, and crooks  of all stripes. The economic Panic of 1893 only drove more people into poverty and crime.  It was a place where a sociopath like Eastman would thrive.  Eastman gained  a reputation as a neighborhood tough and eventually recruited his own gang: the Eastmans. The gang members were almost exclusively Jewish and from that arose the myth that Eastman was Jewish.

The Eastman gang  established a headquarters on Chrystie Street, and quickly became embroiled in  all out wars for territory with rival gangs. The Eastmans engaged  in  a range of criminal activity  from protection rackets, to organizing prostitution rings, to fixing elections that ensured “political” protection from Tammany Hall.

As he grew more powerful, he also started keeping pigeons, five hundred of them, by several estimates, as well as more than a hundred cats. He opened another pet shop on Broome Street, which doubled as a front for his less-lawful activities. Other gangs that answered to him during that time were the McCarthys, the Cherry Street Gang, the Fourteenth Street Gang, the Lolly Meyers, the Red Onions, and the Yakey Yakes

He quickly earned notoriety  for being a brawler. Eastman’s reputation as a lunatic  earned him the job of “sheriff,” or bouncer, at the New Irving Hall, a celebrated club on Broome Street, not far from his pet shop. According to urban legend, Eastman patrolled the New Irving with a four-foot “locust,” or police day-stick, in hand, on which he carved a notch for every head bashed. On the night he reached 49 notches, Eastman reportedly whacked an innocent bystander so as to make it an even 50. The New Irving attracted the creme de la creme of New York’s scum.  Almost all  the customers were either thieves or prostitutes.  Monk was quite skilled at using brass knuckles to knock out unruly customers, but it was his proud boast that he took them off every time he had to quiet an obstreporus female. He would only hit her hard enough to give her a black eye, but never with a weapon. Early in his career, he inflicted so many injuries that ambulance drivers dubbed Bellevue’s accident ward” The Eastman Pavilion.”

These talents were noticed by Tammany Hall, and soon Monk and his gang of Jewish toughs were Election Day fixtures, voting for their candidates two, three, four or more times and suggesting to other voters that perhaps it would be healthy for them to vote the same way. Such a valuable man as Monk made many  powerful friends, and he was routinely released just as soon as he was arrested. This left him free to attend to the business of his hood-for-hire operation, which efficiently offered head whackings or ear chewings for $15, stabbings for $25 and more serious forms of mayhem for $100.

Crime in the Lower East Side  at the turn of the 20th century was divvied up among a number  of street gangs, all competing for turf.  Most powerful of these gangs was  the Five Points Gang, a mob of mostly Irish criminals  headed by another psychopath named Paul Kelly. Eastman considered  Kelly his arch-enemy, and their enmity broke out into open mob warfare. The battles between the Five Pointers and the Eastmans raged in the streets of New York, reminding many residents of the fierce gang battles of a generation earlier. The enmity led to a huge and frightening street battle when  in the summer of 1903, the  Battle of Rivington St. was too much even for Tammany. Three men died as 100 gangsters, “in true Western style,” the New York Herald reported, “fought through 2 miles of streets for five hours in defiance of the police until a square mile of territory was panic-stricken.”

Tammany realized that the feud between Eastman and Kelly was damaging its reputation. So to avoid more bloodshed, Tammany Hall arranged a boxing match to settle the score between Eastman and Kelly. The two squared  off in a ring inside an old barn in the Bronx. It was a bruising bout, lasting two hours, and it ended in  a draw.

Eastman’s reign as a leader in the gang wars of New York City came to an end on February 3, 1904, when he was arrested for trying  to mug a young man in Times Square. The man’s family had hired Pinkerton agents to follow him and keep him out of trouble, and the guards stopped the robbery. He shot at policemen who attempted to arrest him, which earned him a ten-year sentence in Sing-Sing Penitentiary, but served only five.

When Eastman  got out of prison  many of the members of his gang were dead or imprisoned. He became addicted to drugs and he was in and out of prison. In  1917 America  entered World War I.  Eastman was now forty-two years old and he  shocked everyone by turning up at the National Guard Armory to enlist. His body amazed the doctors.

Razor, knife and bullet scars began at his ankles, ran up to his barrel chest and crisscrossed his neck and face. Decorating his belly were souvenirs of two slugs that had ripped through him years earlier, leaving wounds he had plugged with his fingers while dragging himself to the hospital. His nose had been mashed. On each side of his head, where most people have ears, dangled two shreds of flesh. What battles had this man been in? the doctors wondered.

“Oh, just a lot of little private wars around New York,” Eastman said.

Not surprisingly he proved to be a terrific soldier.   He became a doughboy, fighting in the fields of France with the 106th Infantry of the 27th Division, “O’Ryan’s Roughnecks.” Eastman was fearless in battle. There, in the trenches Monk was transformed. The hoodlum became a hero.

There were dozens of stories of his valor. Here was Monk, galloping across wasteland to rescue a wounded comrade. Here was Monk, leaping from crater to crater to wipe out nests of machine-gunners. Here was Monk, badly wounded, insisting upon leaving his hospital bed to rejoin his unit.

When he came home in April 1919, the men he had served with rallied behind him. The newspapers told of his redemption, holding him out as proof that even the most wretched can be saved. MONK EASTMAN WINS NEW SOUL, trumpeted the Tribune. OFFICERS AND HUNDREDS OF SOLDIERS WHO FOUGHT WITH HIM ASK GOVERNOR TO MAKE HIM CITIZEN AGAIN.

However, when the war ended he returned to crime. On December 26, 1920, Eastman got into an argument at a cafe with a crooked Prohibition agent over dirty money. When the agent left, Eastman followed him and called him a rat. The agent, who said he felt threatened, drew his pistol and shot Eastman dead. The agent later served three years in prison for the murder. The papers called Monk a dead thug, but Monk’s comrades  from the 106th would hear none of this. Hank Miller and John Boland, two men who had fought alongside Monk, put up funds for a military burial. “Mr. Edward Eastman did more for America than Presidents and generals,” Boland announced. “The public does not reward its heroes. Now they are calling Mr. Eastman a gangster instead of praising him as one of those who saved America. But we’ll do the right thing by this soldier and give him the funeral he deserves.”

On an overcast, freezing morning three days before New Year’s, 4,000 mourners — soldiers, women, children, blubbering old gangsters — showed up to send Monk off. Monk was dressed in full military regalia, wearing his service stripes and American Legion pin. On his shining black coffin was a silver plate inscribed Our Lost Pal. Gone But Not Forgotten.


The Gruesome Simmons Murder of 1876

On January 30, 1876 some boys were playing near a pile of lumber at the John Englis shipyard at the foot of Milton Street  when they made a horrible discovery. There wrapped in a German newspaper was a human head and a blood  stained bag. Detectives would later discover that the head belonged to a laborer named William Simmons who had been killed three days earlier. The case would become one of the most infamous Brooklyn  murder trials of the nineteenth century.

The details of the killing were as gruesome as anything ever imagined by Edgar Allen Poe. The head was identified as that of William Simmons an innocuous mechanic who lived in Wiliamsburg. The police were totally at a loss when they began to investigate for they had no motive.  They went to home of Andreas Fuchs at 98 North Third Street where Simmons was a boarder. Fuchs was at first very reluctant to talk to the police, but he told the police a story that Fuchs was involved with a married Greenpoint woman with a jealous husband who had vowed to revenge himself on Simmons. While investigating in Greenpoint they found a witness who described a nervous  man who was carrying the bag found near the head. Officer Short realized that the description of the man matched that of Fuchs.

Inspector Waddy of the Bedford Avenue Station apparently did not believe that Fuchs could be the murderer. He told   Detective Short of the Precinct to look for other clues, but Short was sure it was Fuchs and he disobeyed a direct order from Waddy and  forced his way into the Fuchs home where he made an even more grizzly discovery. There on the stove was Simmons Heart and liver being boiled away. A search of the house revealed pieces  Simmons’ torso, which were in a tub that was full of quick lime.  Fuchs had hoped to destroy the body. They arrested Fuchs and he confessed to the crime, but claimed he was an outraged husband who was being cuckolded by Simmons.

Fuchs claimed that he had caught Simmons in the act of seducing his wife and had killed him in rage, but his wife contradicted his claim. She  testified that they had all been drinking together and that she got drunk and went to bed. She was awakened in the middle of the night by noise and when she arose she witnessed her husband strike and kill Simmons with an axe. Fuchs then severed the head and brought it down to Greenpoint.

Fuchs was tried and convicted. At first he was going to be hanged, but his sentence was changed to life in prison. Fuchs died in Auburn State prison for the criminally insane in August of 1882.