After many months of research and planning, we have officially launched our Crime Tour! I couldn’t be more excited. Check it out and start buying those tickets! As of Mid-June we have changed our weekly schedule to fit in our new Crime Tour.
This tour is going to explore the evolution of Crime in NYC, and the many different ways New Yorkers broke the law. We will talk gangs, the mob, murder, prostitutes and conmen. But, for Alex and I, one of the most important things we want to discuss is why crime was so prevalent, and to bust some of the myths that have become part of popular culture. Many of these myths are based on bad research or just plain racism. For instance, many scholars believed that Chinese gangsters were unable to shoot guns because their eyes were a different shape than caucasian’s eyes (according to books like Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury). Instead of aiming, they would all stand in the middle of the street, close their eyes, and fire wildly in a circle around them. Nope. That didn’t happen. It’s crazy. Chinese gangsters were perfectly capable of firing a gun, just like everyone else. But it’s stupid shit like this that drives us crazy.
While we were in the planning phase, I would tell guests about our Crime Tour, and I would often hear “oh, like that movie, Gangs of New York.” No. Not like that movie. That movie sucks. Talk about perpetuating these myths that we are trying to get away from. I haven’t seen that dumb ass movie in some time, but I thought a fun blog could involve having me watch it, and I could write down the things Scorsese got wrong. The stupid thing is super long, and I don’t think I can take it all in one sitting. So, this may turn into a multiple part series. But here it goes!
How the movie The Gangs of New York Took a Dump on History, Part I
- Looking at the cover of the film, we see the New York skyline, with a clear outline of the Empire State Building. Seeing as how the tallest building in New York during this time period is Trinity Church, I think we are in for a ride. Seriously, the Empire State?
- In the beginning of the movie, we see Liam Neesan bribe Monk Eastman (played by Brendan Gleeson) to take part in the battle. Monk Eastman wasn’t born until 1875, and he was not Irish, but Jewish. Oops.
- Liam Neeson’s gang, The Dead Rabbits, are not mentioned in history until 1857, and even then it’s sketchy at best. More accurately they should have been called the Roche Guards, a gang that actually existed.
- Daniel Day Lewis plays Bill the Butcher, and keeps throwing out random Italian words. He was not Italian, and would have been Protestant and since the majority of Italians at this time were Catholics, Bill the Butcher would have had nothing to do with them. Bill hated Catholics. Also, Italians didn’t start immigrating into the states in large numbers until the 1880’s.
- That insanely violent opening battle was not based on any real fight. These early gangs liked to tip over push carts and throw bricks at each other, not have an all out melee in the streets. Even in the most violent of riots, this many people would not have died.
- 15 Minutes in and we finally get a date. 1846. Jesus. Took them long enough.
- Every time they have “New York” written on the walls, its wrong. It should be “New-York” with the hyphen. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that that really fell out of use.
- Suddenly, we are 16 years later, in 1862 in the middle of the Civil War. There is some fireworks display celebrating freeing the slaves, and talk of emancipation. Too bad the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t take effect until January 1, 1863.
- Also, New York did NOT support freeing the slaves, especially in the Five Points district. Abraham Lincoln was very controversial at that time, and most of NYC was pro-slavery democrats that wanted the Confederacy to crumble, but to keep the practice of slavery.
- They are talking about the Conscription Act, or the Draft, which wasn’t in place until March 30th, 1863. Read a book, guys.
- Minute 18 — we see hundreds of Irish immigrants just wandering off the boat into America. Nope. They would have to go through Castle Clinton, the immigration inspection station pre-Ellis Island. Nobody just wandered in.
- Leonardo DiCaprio walks into the Five Points and looks at the Old Brewery, where we first met him as a kid. Too bad that thing was torn down in 1852. Nice one.
- Also, in his voice over, he says that the reformers come every year, but the Five Points just gets worse. As it turns out, the reformers move into the neighborhood in the 1850’s, and build the House of Industry (which was the first unofficial Settlement House in the US) and the Five Points Mission. They had so much success there, that the 5 Points of the 1860’s was a totally different neighborhood. Much safer and cleaner. Lets move on.
- We see a meeting between Boss Tweed and Bill the Butcher. They would have hated each other, as Bill was a Nativist and Tweed was a pro-immigrant democrat. Too Bad Bill the Butcher was murdered in 1855. I guess that makes the rest of the movie a total crock of shit.
- Oops! They got the names of the streets that make up the Five Points intersection wrong. I teach 3rd graders how to read maps, and I think they could have made a more accurate movie.
- Bill the Butcher, it seems, runs the neighborhood. In real life, he was more interested in the Bowery, not the Five Points, and held no sway there. Actually, he didn’t hold any sway at all. He was just some thug, not a political leader.
- DiCaprio’s accent. Oh my god. It’s a mess.
- Saw some Chinese-stereotypes walking around. A little early to see so many them of them, by about 20 years. At this point, Chinese are not allowed to immigrate in the US. Its not until 1868 with the creation of the Burlingame Treaty that allows them to enter, and even then there isn’t any kind of major Chinese population in New York until the 1880’s.
- Oh, god, he’s talking about the Municipal Police fighting the Metropolitan Police, which happened once in 1857. After that, the Municipals were disbanded. Apparently, in this universe, it happens all the time.
Well, I’m 30 minutes in, and I can’t take it any more. I feel my brains oozing out. The moral of the story, come on our Crime Tour! We won’t lie to you!