“Bulldogs were the unsung heroes of the Prohibition Era,” proclaims a monument that popped up in Battery Park this October. Atop the pedestal of that monument sits the figure of a droopy-faced bulldog dressed in a button-down vest and pageboy hat. He guards a wooden barrel that we can assume is full of hooch. After years of dealing with the pandemic and all of the darkness that surrounded it, sculptor Joe Reginella thought the people of New York could use a hero…and a good laugh. Dubbed “the Banksy of monuments” in the New York Times, the Staten Island-based sculptor is known for his memorials of deceptive disasters like the Brooklyn Bridge elephant stampede, an octopus attack on a Staten Island ferry, and a UFO abduction during the blackout of 1977. Reginella aims to “give people a break from disaster” with this latest piece, a monument to Porkchop, the bulldog bootlegger.
According to “research” on a website dedicated to the bulldog bootleggers of New York City, bulldogs helped make deliveries of whiskey and spirits to speakeasies all over town during the 1920s Prohibition era. This delivery system was supposedly pioneered by the infamous bootlegger Bill McCoy. McCoy is “quoted” on Porkchop’s plaque as saying, “That dog had more heart than any man I know. a real gent!” The website also features “historical” images of bootlegging bulldogs mingling with flappers and bellying up to the bar.
The story of Porkchop isn’t completely pulled from thin air. McCoy, for instance, was a real-life bootlegger who ran his yacht from Florida up to the Battery. Porkchop is real as well, but he didn’t live during the 1920s and he didn’t smuggle illicit alcohol through the streets of New York. “Porkchop is my dog,” said Reginella when Untapped New York asked if the statue was modeled after a specific canine. The sculptural Porkchop is about 1.5 times the size of the real-life dog. Altogether, the monument stands about 6.5 feet tall and weighs nearly 250 pounds.
The Porkchop statue was inspired by multiple projects from Reginella’s past. One of those projects was Protector Monuments: Reclaim The Pedestal, created with the help of sculptor Alvin Petit in 2021. The installation honored real-life everyday heroes including people like Isra Daraiseh, who worked tirelessly to help residents affected during the 2016 Flint Water Crisis. “Porkchop is a hero to me and my wife,” said Reginella, so why not make Porkchop a hero for the rest of New York!
Steering away from the disaster theme of his previous monuments, he took a note from another previous project called Toxic Teddies. These figures, at first, “look like something your mom would collect, but they were doing some not-so-nice things.” The cutesy yet “a little devious” tone is what Reginella aimed for again in crafting Porkchop’s story. He chose to include Bill McCoy in the story over other more violent bootleggers because McCoy “was more of a stand-up bootlegger.”
The most exciting part of crafting these installations is watching people interact with them. “People stop and take pictures and with this one in particular they have to be in the photograph with the sculpture,” Reginella says of watching people interact with Porkchop. It’s also entertaining for Reginella to watch people’s reactions morph from shock to confusion and ultimately to amusement. “There is a tour guide who always brings his tours to stop at the monuments,” Reginella told Untapped New York of one of his favorite interactions. “He tells the story as if it’s true and everyone is totally confused. Some people just take it at face value. Then the guide tells them that it’s fake.” Reginella finds that to make a story believable, “the less you tell the better.”
Reginella isn’t out to trick people, though. In fact, his work is used to encourage inquisitive minds to question what they read. His Staten Island ferry attack monument was even featured in a children’s book about how to spot bogus stories on the internet. “I get emails from children at least once a week during school to ask if it’s real,” says Reginella.
If you’re out and about in Battery Park over the next few weekends, enjoying a morning or afternoon stroll, you may come across Porkchop the bulldog bootlegger. If you do, consider throwing him a bone by shopping at Reginella’s online store. The shop features t-shirts, ornaments, and other souvenirs connected to the monuments. Proceeds from the shop fund future installations.