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“Gangsters, Murderers and Weirdos of the Lower East Side” by Eric Ferrara – Book Review

Eric Ferrara’s “Gangsters, Murderers and Weirdos of the Lower East Side” is a grand tour of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, beginning with the chapter “Worth Street to Canal Street” and ending with “East Houston to 14th Street.”

Ferrera takes you on a block-by-block tour of the Lower East Side, with exact addresses of where truly horrible things happened to some mostly despicable people. It begins in the time period when the first street gang in New York City, a group of cleverly cracking Irishmen called the Dead Rabbits, controlled the streets of poor neighborhoods in the Five Points area just before the Civil War. The Five Points area was populated with such poor and dirty people that the city had to come frequently to disinfect the streets and buildings with intense chemicals.

We also meet surly individuals like the Chinese leader Tong Mock Duck, who terrorized Chinatown at the turn of the century. Then there are the three unforgettable Morrelo brothers, Joe, Nick and Antonio, who along with their relatives Ciro Terranova and Ignazio Saietta (Lupo the Wolf), founded the Black Hand Society, which extorted their Sicilian compatriots under death threats, a punishment they frequently carried out.

If corrupt politicians are your favorite thugs, Fatty Walsh and Big Tim Sullivan, along with the indomitable Boss Tweed, are also featured here, with the exact locations where they committed their misdeeds, all in the name of the law.

Superstar gang leaders Charles “Lucky” Luciano and his friend Meyer “The Little Man” Lansky are also boys from the Lower East Side, along with Lansky muscle Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. Lansky and Luciano first met as high school students, when Luciano’s business at the time was extorting pennies from skinny Jewish kids at a Lower East Side school, in exchange for him not beating them to a pulp. One day, Luciano messed with Lansky, and Lansky fought back tooth and nail, beginning a lifelong friendship, also seeping into violence.

The bottom line is that “Gangsters, Murderers and Weirdos of the Lower East Side” is a quick read through the who, what, when, where and how of murder and bullying on the Lower East Side, from just before the Civil War to the late 20th century. This book is not for the faint of heart, but if you want a glimpse into the underbelly of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, you can’t do better than read this interesting, but sometimes alarming book.

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