Herbert Asbury is the author of THE GANGS OF NEW YORK. Years later Martin Scorsese shot a movie with the same name and plot. He convinced Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis to participate in it and the result was spectacular. The plot took place in New York City during 19 centuries. Before the Draft Riots from 1863, people live in the unstable political system. Corruption was in every level of the government.
The movie explains how gangs were ruling the Bowery and the lower Manhattan.
There were two major political parties Democratic based and Native Americans and both of them used gangs to follow their agenda. Control over the city was established with many intrigues. Of course, the whole plot is a fiction but some events were real.
One of the storylines follows the discrimination against immigrants in New York City. During the middle 1800’s immigrants were from Ireland. The director wanted to include as many events as possible in the movie, although most of them are not historically correct. Most of the people are completely fictional characters, like Jenny Everdeane, Amsterdam Vallon, and Priest Vallon. Actors who played these people were Cameron Diaz, Leo DiCaprio, and Liam Neeson. An interesting fact is that director and the team have used real photos from 1860 and manage to create a real sense of past days.
Some main characters were not fictional at all. They were living and breathing people but existed in other times. For example, the William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting was William Poole who has a butcher shop in Washington Market. The existing man didn’t kill his enemies or at least there is no evidence about it. He has maimed them. He didn’t have a glass eye, too. Happy Jack Mulraney was a living person, who has a facial paralysis. It is believed, that he has killed a saloon owner for a negligent remark about his face. He was part of the Gophers who ruled Hell’s Kitchen. Owney Madden was a part of the Gophers, too. He was co-owner of the Cotton Club situated in Harlem and it is a well-known fact that was one of the kingpins of bootlegged liquor during Prohibition.
Monk Eastman was the inspiration for Monk McGinn. He was not part of the Gophers, but he has his own gang which contained twelve hundred people. He lived happily until a corrupt agent who killed him. During Prohibition, agents checked regularly bars and restaurants for alcohol. Boss Tweed was another real man and for a change, he lived the same years as in the movie. His political career was long, and he managed to make some good things for the city although he was corrupt.
If you watched the movie, you have noticed that there is a lot of slag in it. The truth is that the director “borrowed” most words from The Secret Language of Crime: The Rogue’s Lexicon”. In addition, they have used some recordings from 1892 to accomplish this type of speech. The result is true “cabby” accent.
History of Five points
Until 1820 Five points was a good place to live in. During the middle 1800s, several events had happened and the neighborhood became poor and dangerous. There were fabrics that started a mass production of cheap goods who steal the livelihood from tradesmen. Actually cheap goods were needed because there were many immigrants. Most of them didn’t have a job and where to sleep so the streets were full of homeless people. Landowners have found a niche and leased small apartments with almost no suitable conditions for life. There were whole buildings that didn’t have sanitation. Usually, the first floor of these buildings was brothel or groggery. They didn’t have sewers so most people used a basement or outdoors. In addition, these buildings were regularly flooded when raining outside. Sometimes 10 people lived in one room so this was the perfect environment for diseases. Water was not clean and children death rose to 70%. Boarding house runners often have waited for customers right on the docks and promise them a shelter. Irish immigrants didn’t have many opportunities, so they accepted. House runners charged immigrants with exorbitant rates and if they couldn’t pay, their luggage was taken. In this dangerous world, every dollar mattered. Children have to work, too. Of course, prostitution and gangs were arising. The situation was so bad becomes parents didn’t have time to take care of their children and kids walk around the streets. The crime rate was high as expected. These streets were even described by Dickens in American Notes. Sometimes rich people from other neighborhoods visited Five Points to “slumming” and party.
Bowery Boy was something created exactly in this period. Bill the Butcher, for example, was part of this fashion. This type of boys were working-class men who didn’t have families and spend all their money in saloons, brothels, and theatres.
Although in THE GANGS OF NEW YORK focus is centralized on immigrants from Ireland, the truth is that during these years immigrants were from all over the world in New York. There were people all over the world chasing the American dream. In fact, the economy was not so bad but the political bribery has contributed a lot. When the gangs were created, it was a matter of time politician to use them to control the city. The gangs were usually ethnically based and they dressed differently. For example, Dead Rabbits have chosen red stripes, while The Roach Guards have worn blue stripes. Sometimes the colors of your clothes could only tell where you have come from. As we mentioned above, gangs were not distributed in the whole city. The center of the Five Points and the Bowery were two parts, which were, affected the most. Unfortunately, some gangs manage to commit crimes outside of their part of the city. One of them has even an official price list, which involves murder, too.
Five point’s immigrants eventually managed to find better jobs and were changed by next wave of immigrants. In the beginning of 1800 Italians were people who seek a better life and the neighborhood accepted them. Of course, there was a tension between the old and new immigrants. The last wave of immigrants was from Asia.