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The Boss

By David Dayton McKean
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

The environment of Frank Hague's youth was as rough, noisy, and lawless as was the Lower East Side where Alfred E. Smith was growing up. The Horseshoe is today just an- other dismal slum in a city of slums, populated chiefly by Italian immigrants; but in the decades after the Civil War it was filled with Irish, who spent as much time out-of-doors as in, who engaged in innumerable brawls, kept pigs and chickens in their houses, and supported forty saloons, all but two of which were owned by Irishmen. The men worked for the railroads, the Colgate Soap Company, or the Lorillard Tobacco Company. Unskilled men earned a dollar a day and skilled men a dollar and seventy-five cents. The railroad tracks crossed the Horseshoe at street grade, and the coal cars of the Erie on their way to New York were cheerfully regarded as communal property, so that the families of Cork Row and other Irish patches heated their houses or tenements without cost to themselves.

For the smaller boys, it was a world of constant fighting, one group against another, the boys from Cork Row against the 'lace-curtain Irish' of Hamilton Square. Since the fierce fights allowed for no rules, the boys became tough and – proud of it. Stolen brass sold for thirty cents a pound to the unquestioning junk-dealers of the Horseshoe, and the tenpound brass journals from the trucks of freight cars provided for many of the boys a ready source of pocket money. The wagons of the Eagle Brewing Company, rumbling daily over the cobblestoned streets, provided another tempting source of revenue. With agility a team of three could in a few seconds roll a half-barrel of beer from the rear of a moving wagon to the street. The noise of the iron-shod wheels on the stones overcame the noise of the rolling barrel, soon marketable at half-price at any of the back doors of the saloons.


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