As a result of bigoted attacks by his political enemies being carried forward by later writers like Herbert Asbury in Gangs of New York (1928), he’s been falsely accused of being in criminal league with Tammany Hall, for leading “the dead rabbits gang,” and for being involved in the killing of the nativist William “Bill the Butcher” Poole. [Read more…] about John Morrissey: Toward Setting The Record Straight
Spencer Trask awoke on the morning of December 31st, 1909 in the last compartment of the last sleeper car on the Montreal Express as it neared New York City on the D&H Railroad line.
Getting dressed, his thoughts may have turned to the three passions that dominated his 65 years. He did not know then that it would be the final day of his eventful life. [Read more…] about Life and Legacies of Spencer Trask
Britain and the US share a passion for boxing. Over time, it has been both mass entertainment and highbrow delight for writers from Byron to Norman Mailer, or artists from Cruikshanks to Bellows. In 1949, Kirk Douglas made his name as Midge Kelly in Champion. The greatest sporting event of the nineteenth century was a bout between a London bricklayer and a New York blacksmith. Both were of Irish descent. They became sporting super stars. [Read more…] about Bout of the Century: Heenan and Sayers
The Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation is set to host its second presentation on Saratoga gangsters with Greg Veitch on Thursday, February 27th. Veitch’s book A Gangster’s Paradise: Saratoga Springs from Prohibition to Kefauver recalls of a time of bootleggers and shootouts, raids and gambling dens, murder, and political payoffs in Saratoga Springs. [Read more…] about Saratoga Springs: A Gangster’s Paradise
That peculiar phenomenon known as March Madness will soon be upon us, and with its arrival college basketball will be squarely in the national spotlight.
Time was, of course, that college basketball and the Sullivan County resorts were inseparable, and for years the best basketball players in the world could be found spending their summers playing ball in an informal hotel circuit of Sullivan County, NY. [Read more…] about Sullivan County Basketball History: Betting and Borscht
According to historian David Fiske, Floyd J. Shutts was stymied by Amsterdam officials in 1918 when he tried to add on to his factory on Wall Street. Turned down in Amsterdam, Shutts bought property on Saratoga Avenue in Ballston Spa and opened the Ballston Knitting Company in 1920. [Read more…] about Villa Balsamo: A Saratoga County Landmark
A new book, The Sport of Kings and the Kings of Crime: Horse Racing, Politics, and Organized Crime in New York, 1865-1913 by Steven A. Riess, fills a long-neglected gap in sports history, offering a richly detailed and fascinating chronicle of thoroughbred racing’s heyday and its connections with politics and organized crime.
Thoroughbred racing was one of the first major sports in early America. Horse racing thrived because it was a high-status sport that attracted the interest of both old and new money. It grew because spectators enjoyed the pageantry, the exciting races, and, most of all, the gambling. [Read more…] about New Book: Sport of Kings, Kings of Crime
In New York City during the 1920s, an employee of the New York Clearing House, an august downtown financial institution composed of the city’s elite banks, would descend every day and mark three numbers on a chalkboard, each of which was meant as a general economic indicator to be used by the financial industry. Two of these numbers were immediately copied down by a different sort of employee and phoned uptown to a different sort of bank, one whose doings possessed a good deal more relevance for the hundreds of thousands of African Americans who had recently transformed the sleepy neighborhood of Harlem into a budding “black metropolis.”
The uptown bankers, known colloquially as “kings” and “queens,” dealt not in stocks and bonds but in millions of paper slips, each one marked in pencil and each one representing a one, five, or maybe a ten-cent bet placed by a resident on the outcome of a three-digit number derived via a set formula from that day’s Clearing House results. “Playing the numbers” was a cultural institution in Harlem, one that about half the neighborhood’s population seems to have engaged in each day, one that tied them in strange ways to the city’s licit economy, but one that has been strangely understudied by scholars, who in the past have trained their focus largely on the high-cultural manifestations of Harlem’s remarkable flowering.
Playing the Numbers: Gambling in Harlem Between the Wars takes a different tack, utilizing the authors’ remarkable research to tell a story that illuminates the lives of the ordinary Harlemites who most often form little more than a colorful backdrop to accounts of the Harlem Renaissance. For a dozen years the “numbers game” was one of America’s rare black-owned businesses, turning over tens of millions of dollars every year. The astronomical success of “bankers” like Stephanie St. Clair and Casper Holstein attracted Dutch Schultz, Lucky Luciano, and organized crime, fresh off Prohibition and in need of a new hustle, to the game. By the late 1930s, most of the profits were being siphoned out of Harlem. All in all, Playing the Numbers reveals a unique dimension of African American culture that made not only Harlem but New York City itself the vibrant and energizing metropolis it was.
Interestingly, the authors of Playing the Numbers are four Australian academics who received a grant from their government to research this remarkable phenomenon. You can get a taste of the data itself on an innovative website they’ve produced called Digital Harlem: Everyday Life, 1915-1930, which won the Roy Rosenzweig Fellowship for Innovation in Digital History this year from the American Historical Association.
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