A block by block guide to some of the melting pot's most sensational and curious stories.
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Gangsters, Murderers and Weirdos | Online book suppliment
This handy resource (which reads more like a reference guide than a walking tour guide) offers an objective account of life in the slums. It traces the rise of gangster legends like Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Meyer Lansky and "Bugsy" Siegel -- who all grew up and earned their criminal stripes on these streets -- and explores the random violence, accidents and tragedies which affected our ancestors lives in the "melting pot."
Beyond the legends are the stories of everyday people who tried hard to live in the very narrow space allowed for decency and honor. The Lower East Side was a breeding ground of violence and despair -- infested with crime, poverty and illicit vice for well over a century. For those living in the mid-19th century, it was especially hazardous and taxing on all fronts; physical, emotional, financial, mental. It was a time when every block had its own set of rules and a person's lack of awareness or disdain for the territory's etiquette could mean a battle for one's life. It was a time when there were little laws protecting laborers, and many crude or non-existent safety precautions led to regular death, ailment, injury and disfigurement. It was a time when saloon owners and gang leaders held the highest profiles in the community. It was a time when the city was run by a notoriously corrupt administration, Tammany Hall, who remarkably preyed on the immigrants they relied on for votes, often violently through the use of local gangs (and corrupt police.) And finally, it was a time when there was no safety for the average, law-abiding citizen.
By the late 19th century, crushing waves of new immigrants from Europe and Asia infused new turmoil into a city that was just getting its footing. These new arrivals introduced elements of their culture, positive and negative, which greatly influenced the direction and zeitgeist of America. During this era, the roots of many progressive movements were laid: anarchism, socialism, organized labor, women's rights, social service, and for better or for worse, organized crime, are examples of the direct influence these immigrants had.
The Lower East Side, by the mid-19th century, welcomed a new wave of immigrants from Puerto Rico. Around the same time, the neighborhood began to attract many students, artists, and individuals on the margins of mainstream society. Low rents and progressive roots brought them here, and a new radical community was birthed. This new community paved the way for the activists and hippies of the 1960s, who paved the way for more extreme political groups, domestic terrorists and religious cults. By the 1970s, with no help from the bankrupt city administration, much of the Lower East Side fell into deep poverty and became a magnet for characters of all stripes. When the economy turned around, riots broke out in response to the impending gentrification.
This book was not written to exploit violence nor to immortalize the criminal. This book was written as an objective account of life in the slums, and to acknowledge the victims who would otherwise be lost in history. It is stories like these that make up the bigger picture of the "melting pot."
139 Hester Street
- In November of 1886, Henry Lestrange killed William Walker during an argument at a saloon in the basement of this address. It seems there was a long standing dispute between the two which climaxed around five o'clock on this evening as Walker walked into the saloon, only to encounter Lestrange waiting at the bar. The two exchanged words and Lestrange pulled out a revolved and shot Walker, sending him to the floor stating, “Boys, I'm shot!” Walker was taken to the hospital where surgeons performed a laparotomy on his abdomen, but died a few days later in severe agony, telling his dad, “Father, I think I am going to leave you.” Lestrange was well known to police, having just been paroled from Sing Sing Prison for the shooting of a deputy sheriff at Dobbs Ferry.
- On September 29, 1892, Captain Frank Paulson, an elderly veteran of the Civil War, was hacked to death in the room he rented in this building. An acquaintance named Frank W. Roehl was visiting Paulson after drinking all afternoon at a local saloon, where he skipped out on the sixty-cent tab. After the murder, Roehl returned to the saloon and asked, “how much do I owe you?” as he placed money he just stole from his victim on the bar. Roehl was standing at the bar when Police officer Emanuel Myer walked in attempted to arrest Roehl. A struggle ensued and Roehl drew his axe on the officer. Myer hit Roehl with his baton and knocked the axe out of his hands. It took four police officers to wrestle Roehl to the ground and place him under arrest.
- On July 20, 1910, a Russian-born jeweler, Setrah Avanessoff was found murdered here only ten days after arriving in America. Avanessoff found employment at a jewlery store on the ground floor of this address. Seventeen year old shop assistant Max Schopowitz, being the only person in the store at the time of the murder, told police that Avenessoff shot himself. Authorities believed the story at first and mistook a wound on the head as a gunshot wound, which backed up the boys claim. However, the head wound was a result of Avenessoff hitting the floor after being shot in the back, an autopsy revealed. Schopowitz was quickly arrested and tried for the murder.