Join us on a historical tour of bougie downtown NYC, which was once a land of murder and mayhem.



Your Favorite NYC Hot Spots Are Haunted By Murdered People

People say they miss the old New York, and it’s true that Manhattan has kind of turned into a giant mall. Although I don’t know what’s so bad about malls—characters being locked inside them for a whole evening is a classic television trope that leads to self-discovery and clarity of spirit. Welcome to The O.C., bitch!

But we are not in the O.C. We are in New York, and New York, especially downtown, is different now. It is essentially a playground for finance guys, all of whom seem to actually work in mergers and acquisitions as opposed to murders and executions. And thus we reminisce about the better, cheaper, dirtier old days.

Remember when subway cars had graffiti on them? Remember when the movies cost a nickel, and a bagel cost a penny, and heroin was like three bucks? Remember when you could head on down to Christopher Street to get railed? Remember when Daniel Day-Lewis ran the city with an iron fist with the help of his gang of deceased bunnies? I sure don’t! I moved here in 2010 to go to NYU!

My friend Tara modeled for this article, and she is afraid she’ll get bad juju. Pray for Tara.

But apparently New York was, back in the day, much more interesting and exciting. It’s all too damn sanitized now. So come, take a journey through time, and see what we’ve sadly done to this once great city. For Shakespeare may have said, “All the world’s a stage,” but my personal motto is that “All the world’s a grave.”

Bond Street, Home of Celebrities and Artists, Was Once The Land Of NYC’s Greatest Female Murderer

Bond Street between Broadway and Bowery is about as fancy as a street can get. It is home to fancy sushi! To fancy perfume! To fancy deli food! It was where Robert Mapplethorpe lived, and he was not fancy, but then he became very fancy! There is so much money on Bond Street that Bernie Sanders probably wants to shut it down!

But Bond Street is also the site of a fantastic piece of New York crime history. In 1857, one Dr. Harvey Burdell, a dentist, was found dead on the floor of his home clinic at 31 Bond Street, his body “shockingly mutilated” with 15 stab wounds. Burdell had been in a relationship with Emma Cunningham, a widow with five children. He didn’t exactly treat Cunningham like a princess; he reportedly forced her to get an abortion and even allegedly raped her. Good god. But she was a widow with tons of kids and needed support, so she stuck it out. For a while. And then he was killed.

Inappropriate smiles.

Cunningham was charged with murder, and was eventually acquitted when the court determined that she was of the weaker sex and thus incapable of committing such a crime. But she totally did it. It eventually came out that Cunningham had lied about marrying Burdell (she married some other dude who tried to disguise himself with fake whiskers). And then, when trying to nab Burdell’s $80,000 estate, Cunningham claimed to have given birth to his child, but it turned out that she said another woman’s delivery was her own. Tragic, yes, but also if any Lifetime movie producers are reading this, get on it?

Chinatown’s Bloody Angle, Home to Amazing Dim Sum and $18 Dollar Cocktails

Doyers Street is picturesque—adorable, even. While it does feature two absurdly expensive artisanal “speakeasies,” it’s also a slice of gorgeously aged Chinatown. Doyers has wonderful storefronts and some of the best Chinese in town: Nom Wah Tea Parlor, New York’s oldest dim sum restaurant. Nom Wah is delicious! They make these twice-fried egg rolls that are really to die for. And right outside this purveyor of deliciousness, a lot of people really did die in gang-related stabbings.

Doyers is one of New York’s only curved streets, and when you walk down a curved street, it is, uh, difficult to see knife-wielders running towards you. So, in the late 19th century, Chinatown tong gangs used to hack each other to death here, hence Doyers Street’s unofficial title as Chinatown’s “Bloody Angle.” The most infamous Doyers Street blood-n-guts filled war took place in 1909, when the Hip Sing gang killed an On Leong gang comedian for disrespecting them. Out came the hatchets!

There were also secret tunnels where people would kill each other. And lots of opium. One gift shop, Ting’s, which is still open, survived a raid in 1958 that yielded ten pounds of heroin. A  highly racist 1907 New York Times report described this particular block as one “visitors do not see and cannot understand… Its victims [are] Chinamen and white men and women of the most depraved type.” Cool!

Ferrara Bakery, A Touristy Land of Cannolis and Also Mob-Related Criminal Activity

There is always such a long line outside Ferrara’s. It is full of tourists who cannot decide what kind of gelato they want and thus take endless samples, forcing the decisive to fight through a mob scene just to pick up their sfogliatelle. And indeed, Ferrara was once home to an actual mob scene. Sceney mobsters. Remember how Henry Hill was so annoying about getting that front table at The Copacabana? Mobsters are snobs!

Ferrara’s was always a popular mafia spot for eating cannolis and talking about Dr. Melfi’s therapeutic practices. But in 1971 it was the site of a fairly large heist, in which a crew led by “Crazy Joe” Gallo stole about $50,000 from the safe over Easter weekend. It was perceived as an insult to the Don, and five days later, Gallo was shot at his birthday party at Umberto’s Clam House on Mulberry Street. The hit was notorious; it was one of the only mob slayings that was conducted in front of the victim’s family. Bob Dylan wrote an ill-informed song about it.

“Crazy Joe” was a fascinating character who rigorously studied philosophy. He was also a psychopath. Legendary journalist Pete Hamill once wrote that Gallo’s eyes were “Ancient… devoid of time or any conventional sense of pity or remorse… he would joke with the cops and smile for the reporters, but the eyes never changed. Tormented…” Go to Ferrara’s and imagine “Crazy Joe’s” eyes staring at you as you suck down Italian pastries. It is a very effective diet.

295 Bowery, Now A Very Fancy Apartment Complex, Was Once A Notoriously Inhumane Whorehouse

The Avalon Bowery is a gigantic glass nightmare that looms over Whole Foods, gently reminding New Yorkers that the neighborhood itself is a stiff, cold, corpse. Studios there start at $3,730 per month; two bedrooms go for almost $8,000. Anne Hathaway once lived there, which is all anyone needs to know about the Avalon Bowery.

But 295 Bowery was once far more horrifying/interesting. In the late 19th century, the building was a dive bar and brothel. Conditions were so bad that half a dozen “destitute courtesans” committed suicide, and another seven attempted it. They threw themselves out of fifth story windows and drank carbolic acid. In one particularly grisly incident, a prostitute named Big Mame accidentally spilled the acid on her face, disfiguring herself. She was then banned from the establishment, because beauty standards are gross in every age.

“I just want to say that I never pushed a girl downhill any more than I ever refused a helping hand to one who wanted to climb.”

Owner John H. McGurk saw a business opportunity where others saw tragedy, and he decided to call the place McGurk’s Suicide Hall. Classy! “Most of the women who come to my place have been on the down grade too long to think of reforming,” he said. “I just want to say that I never pushed a girl downhill any more than I ever refused a helping hand to one who wanted to climb.” True compassion.

Tompkins Square Park, Somewhat Sanitized Yet Legendary Hellhole

The East Village is basically just Murray Hill now. But once, not so long ago, it was an artistic hub, where some of the greatest creatives of the 20th century could live in harmony in cardboard boxes. It was also full of crime! Tompkins Square Park, which is still full of rats, was the real motherload of disaster. Junkies abounded (they still do, kind of) and in my personal favorite horrific incident, in 1989 Daniel Rakowitz killed his girlfriend and made her into a stew, feeding her to homeless people in the park. Shout that to drunk people coming out of Elvis Guesthouse!

But Tompkins has always been a hotbed of hell. In 1847, the park was home to a labor riot, where thousands of unemployed people tried to have a peaceful demonstration, asking the government for money for a labor relief fund. The police decided to terrorize the crowd instead, beating them with clubs, and riding around on horseback to crack people in their heads. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Happy exploring, everybody! Try not to get possessed by a restless spirit!

Collages by Kathryn Chadason. All Polaroids shot exclusively for Milk by Jocelyn Silver.

Stay tuned to Milk for more death, ghost, ghouls, goblins, ghastliness, etc.

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