15 April 2007

A Trip Through Red Hook's Bloody Past

There's an interesting exhibit up now at the Art Lot, an open-air art space at Columbia Street and Sackett Street in Brooklyn. The lot's chain-line fence is plastered with copies of old newspaper accounts of the goings-on in the neighborhood dating from a hundred years ago to the present day.

You learn a lot from reading these stories. One thing, the area that the realty robots now call the Columbia Heights Waterfront District used to be called Red Hook Flats, a way of distinguishing it from Red Hook proper, which lied to the south. Another thing, the street were crawling with mobsters and rife with raw violence. Every article is about how someone got shot, killed, arrested, assaulted, etc.

At the four-story tenement at 122 President Street (seen above, the door on the left), on July 4, 1922, one Vincent Manella or Minella (depending on the article) answered a knock on the door and found one Anthony "Red" Somma, described as a "gunman and killer." Instead of saying hello, Somma began the visit by firing a couple bullets into Minella's stomach. Minella recovered enough to fire back, hitting Somma in the chest. Happy Fourth of July! They both went to Long Island Hospital. When they recoved consciousness, they refused to discuss the incident.

A few weeks later, Minella was standing in front of the pool room he owned at 53 President Street (since torn down, it would have stood at the above location) when he was shot again by a passing vehicle. At this point, an article states, Somma had been murdered. Just another day on President Street, it seems.

Other tasty news items: a carload of Italians got out of a car and assaulted a group of "Porto Ricans" standing on the corner of Sackett and Van Brunt; and a drunken Irish laborer, living at the corner of Van Brunt and Commerce, dragged his wife off the street and into the apartment, where he proceeded to beat and kick her until she was dead. Feeling remorse, he then fled into the night.

And, my favorite: In 1922, during Prohibition, at least 13 Red Hook residents died from wood alcohol poisoning after drinking some bad bootleg whisky, including Mrs. Anna Morris of 187 Conover Street, Peter McDermott of 70 Summit Street and Edward Burke of 142 Pioneer Street. (The complete list is below.) It was later discovered that the villianous brew was cooked up at 115 Wolcott Street.

These days, all the news is about the construction and rerouted bus lines on Columbia Street.


Anonymous said...

You never heard the tales of the bodies being dumped by the mob off of Red Hook to be eaten by the crabs? Same crabs who then were eaten in many a joint frequented by gangsters? It's a NY urban legend with probably some truth to it.

Anonymous said...

There had been a bootlegging feud going on in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn in the early 1920's. On election night in 1922 there had been a pistol fight between Gregorio Lagana and Joseph Busardo at Tosca Gardens Cafe on Columbia Street. When police arrived they took Busardo who had been shot three times in the back to LI College Hospital as a prisoner. Lagana died. Busardo was later acquitted of the crime as there were no witnesses. On February 8, 1923 Jack Buccafusco and Charles Cucchairo had been visitng Vincent Busardo at his home on Homecrest Avenue. Two men in masks entered the home and killed Cucchairo. Police arrested Busardo & Buccafusco because they did not believe their story. They were released. On April 6, 1923 Vincent Busardo was shot in the back while walking on
DeGraw & Columbia streets. While half conscious on his hospital bed he identified Umberto Anastasio & Guiseppe Florino as his shooters when police brought them to his hospital room. Vincent Busardo died that evening. On April 29th 1923 two men were gunned down on Sackett Street. One man Biagi Giordano died and the other man UAnastasio was in critical condition. This shooting was said to be a vendetta for the killing of Busardo a few weeks earlier. Umberto who became Albert Anastasia and Joseph Florino were linked to many crimes including the disappearance of Pete Panta, a dock worker.