25 Comments

  1. Just because he didn’t report it to the police doesn’t mean that he didn’t tell anyone about it. Even if he didn’t want a public record of it, he might have told some friends about it, particularly ones not in his hometown.

  2. This reminds me of a case a few years ago, about students at a fraternity at a public university who were marching around shouting racist chants. The university disbanded the frat and expelled all the students involved. A legal blog had an analysis (correct, I think) that the university had violated the students’ 1st Amendment rights, and that the students would be able to successfully sue for reinstatement. The same blog pointed out (also correctly, I think) that any student who did this would likely have their case appear as the first hit in web searches on their name, and would thus have the details of their racist chants forever associated with their name. Better to just accept the expulsion and apply to other schools rather than win a Pyrrhic victory.

  3. Even assuming he told someone (which really seems unlikely for a man in his position), why would he have told them the precise location?
    He could have told somebody in lower Manhattan, who then took the story to the media, but at this point it feels like we’re just trying to make the story work.

    Yes, I am a skeptic by nature.

  4. Also along the lines of trying to get the story to work: He might have told a policeman the story, and then thought better of it when it came time to actually file the police report. The policeman has the details, and thinks it’s a funny story to tell his friends.

  5. “the man refused to do so”

    Whom did he refuse?

    Okay, we need more details. I would say none of this is verified and all must be treated as an anecdotal story. In context of the paragraph (how did the merchant elbow his way into that paragraph) or page what’s going on. What is this actually illustrating.

  6. I guess my misunderstanding is over “contemporary” — it must mean contemporary with us (that is, “modern”) , not contemporary with him (would that be “contemporaneous”?), else it wouldn’t be dismissed.

  7. To be fair, Five Points is infamous enough that Martin Scorsese made a film about it (Gangs of New York). So even if it isn’t true and just rumor mongering, Five Points reputation is poor enough that it has stood the test of time and makes it marginally more believable, especially as a thief you’d wanna target someone who isn’t from around there. Since Five Points reputation was rather crappy, the real question the good people of Boston back home would have is what he was even doing there if not to get into elicit trouble.

    Also, I dunno how reliable police were in this time period either. Corruption was rather rampant in the 1800s.

    Also Also, he probably had partners that he had to explain where the 100 bucks went, which likely wasn’t an insubstantial amount of money back then with inflation and all.

  8. “Contemporary” to the alleged incident.

    It’s a stupid word that can have two opposing meanings, and I’m never going to use it again.

  9. I have another issue with all this: crime was rampant in Five Points at the time, so why did the author choose an incident he couldn’t verify six ways from Sunday?

  10. A few years ago there was a series on the BBC America channel that took place at Five Points, called “Copper.” It was cancelled after two seasons.

  11. Long before Scorsese’s film, Five Points was used in “The Sting“, as the birthplace of the mob boss Lonnegan. In addtion, Hooker claims to have grown up there, but that’s just a dig at Lonnegan.

  12. B.A. — why didn’t he choose a story he could verify? Because the point was entertainment, not news, and “butter”, “gin”, “drugged”, “coat”, and “Methodist steward” are all vaguely amusing details.

  13. Reminds me of a line from the musical Wicked: “Where I’m from we believe all sorts of things that aren’t true – we call it ‘History.’ “

  14. As in the old joke:

    A minister who preaches that drinking alcohol is sinful is invited to a very fancy restaurant a few towns away by an influential deacon of the church (who does drink). The deacon asks if the minister minds if he drinks in front of him, to which the minister sheepishly says this might be a good time to try a little alcohol himself to better understand the parishioners, and being far enough away from his own town, he wouldn’t be leading a congregant astray – he’s heard about something called a “martoony”, which he asks the waitress for.

    The waitress heads back to the bar, where she tells the bartender, “The cutest, meekest little man just asked for a ‘martoony’; isn’t that precious?”, to which the bartender asks:

    “Is that minister here again?”

  15. Jews don’t recognize Jesus as the son of God. Protestants don’t recognize the Pope. And Baptists don’t recognize each other in the liquor store.

  16. “…with a load of butter…” seems to indicate that this incident happened in the far-ish past. So maybe as he got older he wasn’t so easily embarrassed.

    Or, the woman was caught when some other poor schlub got taken and did report it. And she gave a statement.

    Or maybe the author knows the individual involved.

    Or maybe the author made it up.

  17. Sorry, the theft allegedly took place c.1850.

    Five points hasn’t existed for some time, but it was unreasonable for me to expect everybody to know that.

  18. The thing is, not only is this a well-regarded historian, but he seems to be more willing than most to note when a detail is of questionable accuracy.

  19. It must have happened in coldish weather – a load of butter from Illinois to Boston would go bad in summer – especially before cars and modern highways. Plus things like butter tended to be local before our current time where everything is shipped from everywhere around the world to everywhere else.

    Perhaps even though he refused to report it, the witnesses did report it.

  20. “A few years ago there was a series on the BBC America channel that took place at Five Points, called “Copper.” It was cancelled after two seasons.”

    Which is too bad. I rather enjoyed it, except for the last episode which was silly.

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