On an otherwise calm September 16th in 1903, only a day and a half before the massive “Vagabond” hurricane devastated portions of the city, rival members of two notorious Lower East Side gangs squared off under the elevated platform of the Second Avenue train line. The lengthy and bloody gunfight that ensued was possibly the largest of its kind in American History.
In dispute was a narrow strip of real estate considered to be old New York’s premiere red light district – the Bowery. The largely Jewish “Eastmans,” named for their brutish, pockmarked leader, Edward “Monk” Eastman, held the territory south of 14th street and east of the Bowery. Paul Kelly, a charismatic former pugilist, ran the predominantly Italian “Five Points Gang” under the guise of a political club called the Paul Kelly Association. Five Points territory covered much of lower Manhattan west of the Bowery.
The Draft Riots of 1863 are regarded as the deadliest racially incensed insurrection in American history, aside from the Civil War. Image via history.com
A number of factors led to the worst series of street riots in American History. With the Civil War well underway and the Union army strapped for supplies and soldiers, draft officers were forced to make a difficult decision in New York, whose economy was still tightly connected with the South and whose population contained a large number of working class Irish citizens and families who resented the laws that allowed wealthier men to circumvent the upcoming drafts. What followed the second drawing of the Union Army draft in New York was four days of destruction cutting a swathe across the entire island, ending only when President Abraham Lincoln ordered military force against it.
The riots reached far and wide throughout 19th century Manhattan; here are seven notable spots, famous now for their fighting, or their surprising lack of fighting.
Manhattan’s Chinatown is one of the oldest and largest concentrations of Chinese people outside of China. Still comprising more than 90,000 inhabitants as of today, its colorful banners and bustling street marketplaces are a persisting fixture of Lower Manhattan. It can trace the inklings of its history down to a single person, Guangzhou-born businessman Ah Ken, who was the first person to permanently settle in the area that is now known as Chinatown in 1858. Today, it faces decline due to rising rents and the looming threat of gentrification, but holds with it an illustrious history, from Ah Ken’s original cigar shop to the days of the Chinese Exclusion Act to the immense expansion and diffusion to other New York Chinatowns after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.
And yet, amid the changing times, demographics, and culture of what began as a small outcropping of the first Chinese immigrants to America, are the conversely unchanging roads and alleys that frame it. Some, like the infamous Doyers Street, are able to be traced back to the late 19th century. Others, like Pell Street, have only become recently recognizable due to its exposure on film and television.
In any case, if you ever find yourself wandering around Canal Street with little to do but learn about Chinatown’s history and people (as is frequently the case), the only thing you need to do is follow the streets. Here are a 5 notable alleys to check out:
Photo Eddie Hausner, from the NY Times, 1959
Yesterday, we covered 10 buildings that refused to be demolished in the face of development. These spunky buildings (and the people who lived in or owned them, of course), make for some of the best New York City stories. Sometimes however, whole neighborhoods get lost in New York. Many have made way for some of New York City’s most famous neighborhoods, but today we’re highlighting some of the stories and people who once traversed the streets daily.
Radio Row, which became the World Trade Center. Image via ArchRecord.
Pulqueria—the hidden Mexican restaurant and speakeasy in the heart of Chinatown—was inspired by ancient Aztec culture and Mexico City’s street markets. It was the first bar in NYC to serve pulque, an alcoholic beverage made from agave leaves. You’ll find Pulqueria’s unmarked entrance in the winding, one-way inner alleys of Chinatown, if you don’t get lost first. Descend the unremarkable steps to the subterranean spot, and you’ll emerge in a dimly lit, atmospheric lounge. (more…)
We’re excited to partner with Andrea Janes of Boroughs of the Dead for a walking tour on one of our favorite topics here in NYC. The tour, Murder, Scandal & Vice: Crime & Corruption in 19th Century New York will take place on June 14th at 7pm with a cocktail to follow (optional) at the hidden bar Pulqueria in Chinatown.
Life in 19th Century New York was filled with murder, corruption, crime, and vice of all flavors. This just under 2-hour historical walking tour examines some of old Gotham’s most brutal and infamous crimes, some still unsolved, all set against the backdrop of a bustling city that seethed with scandal. From the gangsters of the Five Points to the tragic women of McGurk’s Suicide Hall, we’ll explore the shadiest, tawdriest, and most notorious stories of old New York.