Bandit’s Roost, located in the notorious Mulberry Bend fifty-seven years after “Petition to Have the Five Points Opened,” in 1831. Picture by Jacob Riis, 1888.
How the Other Half Lived
Round Mulberry Bend …
In the old-timey days of New York’s Lower-East Side ‘down near what is now Federal Plaza, Mulberry Street used to bend leading you directly into the depths of the Five Points. Well-to-do city folk considered “the bend” to be the cut off, or point of no return as it were since beyond that elbow in the street a man might expect to lose much more than a pitiful rookerful of change.
During the mid-to-late 1800s, New York City was rocked by an epidemic of gang violence. Crime was especially rampant in Manhattan neighbourhoods like Five Points, Hell’s Kitchen, the Fourth Ward and the Bowery, where back alleys and tenements became infested with thieves, hustlers and street thugs. These groups trafficked in everything from robbery and prostitution to murder, and their names could strike fear into the hearts of even the most crime-hardened city dwellers. From river pirates to knife-wielding adolescents, get the facts on seven of 19th century New York’s most notorious street gangs.
There was ‘an unparalleled era of wickedness” in the last 25 years of the 19th Century, as ragtag street gangs matured into organized criminal enterprises. One was based in the teeming Five Points neighbourhood on Mulberry Bend — the same area that later became the Mafia’s haunt on Mulberry Street.
At Five Points’ “height,” only certain areas of London’s East End vied with it in the western world for sheer population density, disease, infant and child mortality, unemployment, prostitution, violent crime, and other classic ills of the urban destitute.
Five Points is alleged to have sustained the highest murder rate of any slum in the world. According to an old New York urban legend, the Old Brewery, an overcrowded tenement on Cross Street housing 1,000 poor, is said to have had a murder a night for 15 years, until its demolition in 1852.
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